California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, an issue which had long been advocated by the state’s immigrants rights groups.
“California is a place of dreams,” said Governor Brown. “It’s also a place of realities. This reality isn’t about politics. It’s about the people who by their fervor, their faith and their numbers transformed California.”
Weeks earlier, when the bill had been approved, immigrants rights groups had signaled its significance. “This is really a historic day for California,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, according to the Associated Press. “This is really simply about driving and ultimately about being able to engage in everyday activities that every American does.”
The bill, AB 60, also known as the Safe and Responsible Drivers Act , was authored by Assembly member Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) with the aim that all drivers in California were properly trained, licensed and insured.
“I have been living with fear of getting pulled over and stopped by police, and getting deported,” Armando Ibañez told reporters gathered at the offices of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, according to KPCC, Southern California Public Radio. Ibañez, an immigrant who works three food service jobs in Los Angeles, said he has been driving for 12 years without a license.
As Adriana Maestas pointed out in a previous NBC Latino article, a 2012 California Department of Motor Vehicles study analyzing crash data over a 23-year period found that unlicensed and suspended/revoked drivers were almost three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck supported the bill.
Governor Brown had requested several changes to the bill to comply with Homeland Security requirements. The licenses will have a distinguishing notation of DP, for driving privilege, on the permits, instead of the normal DL, for driver’s license. The driver’s licenses will have a notice: “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes. This license is issued only as a license to drive a motor vehicle. It does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits.”
Though some immigrant activists worry about profiling, the law once signed will make it possible for over 1 million immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.
“After 20 years of driving discrimination, the passage of the bill makes an important moment in California, which is clearly moving away from the Wilson era of anti-immigrant politics,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org. “Most importantly, AB 60 helps protect immigrants against the terror caused by deportations by collaboration between federal, state and local governments,” Carmona added.
Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at California State University, Los Angeles. tells the Associated Press that Governor Brown, who has strong support among Latino voters, is aware of how the broader population is becoming more welcoming toward immigrants, even though the immigration debate in Congress is not resolved.
“The timing seems to be there in a sense, and I think Brown is very good at understanding votes and understanding timing,” Regalado said. “He wants to be ahead of the curve.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has until no later than Jan. 1, 2015 to develop a process for accepting alternative documentation to process the driver’s licenses, but Assemblyman Alejo said DMV officials told him they may be able to begin issuing the licenses in September or October of 2014.