In case you haven't been reading about it in the news lately, a new California law went into effect in January that extends legal driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. Although California is the tenth state to allow formerly undocumented immigrants to get a license, it's significant because the state has one of the largest undocumented immigrant populations in the country. This new law could mean up to 2.6 million more drivers out on the road!
Here's what you should know about California's new law and how it's beginning to impact drivers around the country.
What the California Law Says
The recently passed Assembly Bill 60: The Safe and Responsible Driver Act (AB 60) overturned a 1994 law that denied undocumented immigrants in California the right to drive. But as of January 1, 2015, any California resident can apply for a driver's license, regardless of citizenship status.
These licenses are granted at the same cost as other Class C/M driver's licenses, which is $33. A written test and a driving test must be passed before issuing a license, and applicants have three chances to pass each test. Driver education courses are strongly recommended to prepare for the exams. AB 60 licenses have visible distinguishing features and cannot be used for certain federal purposes.
The Extent of Undocumented Licensing in California
During the month of January, local news sources reported that more than 452,000 undocumented immigrants applied for a driver's license. And according to a report in mid-February, over 76,000 new licenses had already been issued.
California's Department of Motor Vehicles has estimated that at least 1.4 million undocumented immigrants will apply for a driver's license over the next three years. Recent federal government estimates put the current national undocumented immigrant population at about five million.
Expansion to Other States
Although California is the state making headlines these days, states all around the country are paying attention and debating immigration issues of their own. There's been a successful program in New York City to issue ID cards to undocumented immigrants, and over a quarter million New Yorkers signed up for the program. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC have similar ID programs.
The states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Illinois, and Maryland also currently issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Rallies have been recently held in Texas to advocate for similar licensing laws. Many Texas cities offer no public transportation, so driving becomes a daily necessity to work, go to school, and seek medical treatment.
What It All Means for Immigrants and Drivers
Newly-licensed immigrant drivers are saying that this new privilege makes them feel more secure, calm and well-informed. Advocates for immigration rights have been pushing to license and identify all immigrants in some way for many years now. Both state and federal officials have been trying to push these immigrants who entered America illegally out of the shadows without them fearing deportation. Without this fear, undocumented immigrants can have valid interactions with police officers and gain access to basic services and privileges.