California DMVs prepare to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants

Within the past few years, several states have begun to grant driver’s licenses and identification cards to immigrants who came to the country as children and do not hold American citizenship. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has been working to make this a reality in The Golden State with the passage of law AB 60, which awards licenses to those here illegally {see note above} who learn the rules of the road and pass a driving test. The legislation has come across many hurdles; however, in September 2014, the federal government finally signed off on California’s design for the new immigrant licenses, and DMVs across the state are preparing to start granting licenses in January 2015.

Overcoming hurdles
This comes as wonderful news for those awaiting permanent U.S. citizenship – a driver’s license will allow many to live more fulfilling and successful lives during this time of waiting. However, it came with some very disheartening delays and issues. As The Hill reported, the initial design for the California licenses for undocumented immigrants were dangerously similar in appearance to those for people who hold American citizenship.

The REAL ID Act allowed each state a certain amount of freedom concerning how they design their licenses, but the federal government found that California’s immigrant IDs were not distinct enough. On the front, the design was identical to regular licenses except for one small detail: Where the ID says “DL” (“driver’s license”) in small text to the right of the picture, it would instead read “DP” (“driving privilege”). The aim of the similar design was to ensure that undocumented immigrants are not treated unfairly if an official notices that they is living in the country without citizenship.

As the Los Angeles Times noted in a September 2014 editorial, some people believe that allowing immigrants to hold licenses, particularly ones that so closely resemble IDs for people with American citizenship, is a way of rewarding people for engaging in illegal activity.

“Already, critics of AB 60 are arguing that providing driver’s licenses to people who are in the United States illegally rewards them for breaking the law,” the LA Times editorial stated. “But that’s putting politics before common sense. AB 60 doesn’t condone illegal immigration. Rather, it recognizes the argument made by some law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, that we are all safer if those immigrants who are currently driving without a license are taught to operate a car safely and are tested to ensure that they meet the same standards as other drivers. Licenses will also deter hit-and-run accidents by taking away one of the chief incentives to flee the scene.”

The new license design
After the initial design was rejected, California went to work changing the design to meet federal guidelines. The new licenses will have the phrase “federal limits apply” across the front so it is very clear at first glance that the holder is an undocumented immigrant. Additionally, the back would read “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes.” This puts specific limitations on the use of the license. For example, it cannot be used to enter a federal building or board a plane.

With the new design approved by the U.S. government, those without American citizenship wishing to obtain a license may want to start preparing for a visit to the DMV at the start of 2015. California officials are still determining what documents one will need to obtain a license, but it’s expected the list will include utility bills or receipts, residential leases and other forms of proof of address.