WASHINGTON, December 28, 2014 – Call them drivers licenses, driver privilege or driver authorization cards, nine states already issue permission for illegal immigrants to drive. Now California is preparing to issue drivers licenses, defined as driving privilege cards, to immigrants living in the United State illegally.
State Assembly Bill 60, the “Safe and Responsible Drivers Act,” goes into effect on January 1.
As the state with the largest number of immigrants, California state officials say they want their license rollout to be an example for other states to follow. California expects 1.4 million people to apply for the licenses over the next three years, making it the largest roll out to date.
The state has had more than a year to prepare, establishing a budget of $141 million over three years to meet demands. California will open four temporary drivers license processing centers in Lompoc, Goleta, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, and will increase hours at permanent facilities. The state is also encouraging applicants, both Americans and illegal aliens, to make appointments.
California is the tenth state to issue the Driving Privilege license to illegal immigrants, after Nevada, Colorado, Washington state, Utah, New Mexico, Washington DC, Connecticut, Vermont and Illinois.
Not everyone will be able to receive a license, though advocates say most should be able to apply and receive a license without trouble. Applicants will be expected to take the written driver’s license exam, complete the application form, pass a vision test and, when applicable, a road sign test.
Applicants must also provide a thumbprint, have a picture taken, and schedule an appointment for the behind-the-wheel driving test before a license is issued.
Applicants under 18 applying for an original driver’s license will also need to submit proof they have completed driver’s education.
Nevada reported that approximately 90 percent of undocumented immigrants failed the written exam, leading to concerns that applicants may not have the literacy proficiency necessary to take the 36-question written test.
California reports that half of those who took the exam in English and more than 70 percent who took it in Spanish failed the first time, according to a study of 11,000 test forms filed with the DMV in 2005.
Immigrants in the country illegally who have not learned to speak the language are expected to have more difficulty in passing the test. Many of those who came to the US illegally may have poorer educations than those arriving in the country legally, according to a 2008 report published by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Community groups across the state are helping immigrants prepare for the test, providing information on traffic rules and how to interact with police if stopped.
Santa Barbara City College started planning a 15-hour course on traffic rules and how to interact with police for the fall.
“We have 800 to 900 people on a waiting list of people interested in a driving class,” said Jose Martinez, coordinator of the college’s community education center.
Mexican Consulates, community and police groups have been working with persons providing them with the information and training they need to pass the written test.
“What we’re being sensitive to is we have a population that probably has never come to a DMV, doesn’t really know what they can expect,” said Lizette Mata, DMV’s deputy director of special projects, who had been traveling Nevada earlier this year to work with community groups. “I’ve had people tell me: ‘I didn’t know I need to take the exam the day I applied.'” (Nevada Journal – April 2014)
Proponents says that allowing illegal immigrants driver’s licenses helps law enforcement officers as license databases are a law enforcement tool.
Ability to prove identity improves the relationship between community members and the police. And when people can identify themselves with government-issued IDs, they can open bank accounts, which reduces the risk that they will be targeted by criminals according to the National Immigration Law Center.
Except in the states of New Mexico and Washington state, persons applying for a drivers license must show proof of identity. One form of proof is the matrícula consular identity card issued by the Mexican Consulate to citizens residing outside of Mexico.
From the NILC website:
To obtain a matrícula consular, a Mexican citizen must apply in person at a Mexican consulate in the U.S. and provide biographic and biometric information (including a digital photograph and fingerprint), pay a fee, and present:
- a Mexican birth certificate;
- an official Mexican ID, such as a voter ID card; and
- proof of address within the issuing consulate’s consular district.
The requirements to obtain a matrícula consular are the same as those to obtain a Mexican passport, with the addition of proof of residence within the consular district.
The number of people making license appointments more than doubled to 379,000 during the first two weeks immigrants were allowed to sign up.
You can find more information on the process of applying for a California driver license by visiting the California Department of Motor Vehicles website.
Things that will bar an individual from getting a license are:
- If they have a license under a false name
- If they obtained a license using a false Social Security number
- If they have prior deportation order
- If they have a criminal record
Proponents of allowing immigrants legal drivers licenses say it will make lives easier as many are already driving without license or insurance, which any applicant, legal or illegal immigrant, must have.
Jonathan Blazer, advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation says he expects California to license as many immigrants in the country illegally as the nine other states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico combined.
“If California is not able to do this right with the resources it put into this, other states will take notice,” Blazer said.
Critics of the bill that will allow illegal immigrants to have a valid driver license are most concerned that the state will not fully identify immigrant identities and that marking the driver license phrase “federal limits apply” clearly marked on the front may not effectively protect America from those who would do harm.
Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies stat that granting drivers licenses for illegal immigrants raises national security concerns.
Feere wrote Driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants an issue in three states (Drivers License for illegal immigrants an issue in three states – October 2014) in which he raised concerns that licenses would not clearly state that the person holding the license is an illegal immigrant.
“The federal REAL ID Act — which put a number of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission into effect — standardizes state driver’s licenses and seeks to prevent illegal aliens from boarding airplanes, entering government buildings or accessing nuclear power plants. But illegal immigration advocates have pushed some states to offer special driver’s licenses just for illegal aliens that are not REAL ID compliant. The movement is part of the effort to blur the distinction between law-abiding residents and foreigners who believe they are above the law.”
DMV officials in California stated that those issued a driver’s license under AB 60 or people under age 21 will receive a vertical card, while others will continue to receive the tradition horizontal card, DMV officials said.
Errors in issuing licenses are a concern as it could allow holders to board airplanes , vote or apply for federal entitlement programs.
The State of North Carolina came under fire when it first proposed a license with a pink stripe and the words “No Lawful Status”.
Cinthia Marroquin, an illegal resident of the state, said in interviews that was worried about presenting a license declaring she has “NO LAWFUL STATUS” at a police roadblock or while writing a check at the grocery store.
“A lot of us are just scared. We just want to be able to get a job and drive to work. Having that license is just going to show everybody you’re here illegally, just buying a beer or writing a check. You don’t know how people might react.”
ACLU attorney Ron Pinto said of the North Carolina licenses that:
“There is simply no reason for officials to stigmatize people who are in the U.S. legally with an unnecessary marker that could lead to harassment, confusion, and racial profiling.”
Concerning legality of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) aliens, NC state law says that a driver’s license will be issued to anyone who holds valid federal documentation of their “legal presence” in the United States. So, according to NC AG Roy Cooper, a Democrat, DACA aliens are here legally, that under federal law, DACA participants have a “legal presence,” even if they do not have “lawful status,” and that state law requires that DACA participants be granted licenses.
In Oregon, according to TSA officials, illegal immigrants with a Driving Privilege card can board an airplane. In Colorado, Morpho Trust, the company charged with issuing the cards, issued more than 500 cards without the marking “not to be used for federal purposes” meaning that those individuals could board an airplane.
Morpho Trust, who produces IDs for 42 states, has tried to retrieve those cards, offering $100 gift cards in exchange. As of October 2014 reports were that only 43 licenses were still outstanding.