In January 2015, undocumented workers will have their first opportunity to obtain California driver’s licenses thanks to the passage of Assembly Bill 60 by the state legislature on September 12, 2013. The bill allows driver’s licenses for undocumented workers for the first time since 1993.
The bill was recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown and means that California will join the states of Connecticut, Colorado, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Illinois, Washington, Nevada and Utah, along with Washington, D.C. in allowing undocumented workers to legally drive. The bill is a major step for agricultural workers who risk their safety and legal prosecution when driving without a license.
Who qualifies for a license?
Under the bill, undocumented workers 16-years and older can receive driver’s licenses if they complete driver’s education and training, and also pass California’s written and driving tests.
Unlike traditional driver’s licenses for citizens, undocumented workers will receive a license that states “Driving Privileges Only,” meaning that it cannot be used as a form of identification, to obtain employment, board an airplane, open a bank account or receive other public benefits.
How does the process work?
When applying to receive a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), undocumented workers will submit a legal document stating that they are unable to obtain a Social Security number and cannot prove that they are legally allowed to live in the United States. Undocumented workers must also provide proof of California residency.
**This DMV document with citizenship status and residency information is private and cannot be given to or used by police or other law enforcement agencies to investigate, arrest or detain undocumented workers.
What is the benefit of AB60?
Agricultural workers who have to take their children to school, run errands, and go to work are able to do so legally by obtaining a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
In recent years, many sobriety checkpoints in California were used to not only stop and arrest drunk drivers but also target undocumented workers who were driving without a license. These checkpoints would result in the worker’s car being impounded for 30 days.
AB 60 also has numerous safety benefits. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, 12 percent of California drivers do not have a valid driver’s license. Even worse: the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that one in five fatal crashes in the United States involve an unlicensed driver.
With about 1.4 million uninsured and unlicensed drivers in California, allowing undocumented workers to obtain licenses through formal driver’s training will create safer roads across California.
Also, licensed drivers in California are required to have automotive insurance, which will reduce the likelihood that unlicensed drivers will flee the scene of car accidents.
Are there any risks?
There is a possibility that the bill could cause more problems for undocumented workers than it aims to solve.
This problem stems from the distinction between driver’s licenses for citizens and those for undocumented workers. While driver’s licenses for undocumented workers states “Driving Privileges Only” on the card, ones for citizens do not.
This difference is what critics of the bill called a negative mark against undocumented workers.
Because of this mark, police officers that pull over undocumented workers on the road could possibly report the identification of the worker to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to investigate the worker’s legal status.
Earlier, it was noted that the bill prohibits the Department of Motor Vehicles from sharing information about the status of undocumented workers when applying for a license. This rule, however, does not specifically apply to police offices that come across undocumented workers with the new driver’s license.
It is not yet clear how local police agencies and the California Highway Patrol will handle information of driver’s license-carrying undocumented workers and whether they would or would not supply that information to immigration law enforcement agencies.
Check the Voice of the Fields for more information and the latest developments on California’s new driver’s license law.