California approves driver’s license for undocumented immigrants

After much debate and discussion, California has decided to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license. On Thursday, Oct. 3, governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that was cause for celebration for many in the state’s immigrant community.

How liscences work
The licenses have special markings to indicate to law enforcement that they cannot be used as federal identification. However, they will allow undocumented immigrants to own and operate a vehicle legally. In the past, undocumented immigrants caught driving were subject to federal immigration screening and were often deported. Their cars would also be impounded. This new bill removes much of that fear.

Safety
Police support the decision, believing the streets will be safer, according to the Associated Press . Undocumented immigrants were driving either way, but now they have the means to learn safe driving habits – such as the rules of the road – and not be afraid of arrest when complications do occur.

“That’s what this bill is about, making the streets of this state safer,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said at the signing ceremony outside of City Hall.

Concerns
While the bill was still being reviewed, concern was raised over how the decision would impact racial profiling, but the bill has made provisions to protect drivers. It is illegal to discriminate based on the license and police cannot arrest or investigate the immigration status of someone who owns one.

A long time coming
Getting this bill passed and signed has been a long road. For two decades, advocates have been pushing legislators to allow a driver’s license for undocumented immigrants. Over the past 15 years, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo has attempted introducing a bill to do just that 11 times, without success.

The reform has reflected well on Gov. Brown. The immigrant community was cheering “champion” in Spanish at the ceremony. Brown also made statements urging lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to pass reform.