Undocumented immigrants eligible for driver’s licenses by 2015



Undocumented immigrants will soon be able to legally acquire driver’s licenses, like the one pictured above.

By Jan. 1, 2015, undocumented immigrants in California will not have to drive in constant fear of being pulled over by the police.

California State Assembly Member Luis Alejo, with help from Gov. Jerry Brown, created the Safe and Responsible Driver’s Act. The bill, also known as Assembly Bill 60, was signed into law by Brown in October 2013.

This bill will change a 20-year status for undocumented immigrants who do not have a driver’s license.  They were forced to choose between driving at their own peril, arranging for rides through neighbors or friends or using public transportation to get through the day.

California is becoming the 12th state in the U.S. to initiate the move, as legislators mull over growing demands to legally recognize the presence of undocumented immigrants in the country.

More than 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., and more than 2 million are in California, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

“This law will improve public safety for all Californians by helping ensure that undocumented persons pass a written and driving test and obtain proof of insurance and a license before driving their vehicles in California,” said Department of Motor Vehicle Chief Deputy Director Jean Shiomoto in a press conference. “Thanks to AB 60, we believe more drivers will be safer on California roads.”

The DMV estimates that roughly 1.4 million undocumented persons could apply for driver’s licenses once the program is implemented. It is preparing for the change by hiring temporary workers, drafting new regulations and proposing a design for the new license, which will need to be reviewed by U.S. Department of Homeland Security to make sure it is compliant with federal law.

The new proposed design for the license will show the letters “DP” for “driving privilege” rather than “DL” for “driver license,” according to the DMV. The law prohibits any type of discrimination with this new type of license.

Since Jan. 1, 1994, a Social Security number was required to apply for a driver’s license. It was not required before that date.

Consequently, some undocumented immigrants resorted to unlawfully driving without a license.

“The police have stopped me three times in the past 20 years, and once for just looking suspicious,” said Guillermina Lopez. “It affected me and my kids tremendously not only because of the fear of being caught, but also because we had to get our car towed and were left carless, which caused us to feel very violated and embarrassed,” she added.

Navarro is an undocumented immigrant who has lived in California for over 28 years and has continuously lived with the fear of getting caught for driving without a license.

Getting caught driving without a license can affect people economically. A minor infraction that usually costs a legal resident or citizen about $100 to $200, can cost an undocumented immigrant as much as $1000 dollars, not including the price of towing, according to DMV records.

Driving without a license is considered a criminal offense according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Section 125000 of the California Vehicle Code makes driving without a license a criminal misdemeanor.

Aside from any additional court fees, violators are also liable for possible time in county jail, probation, and towing and impoundment of the car the unlicensed person was operating.

Alfonso Mendoza has lived in California for over five years and also drives without a license to get to his job as a carpenter.

“For just parking a little off the line in a parking lot I received a ticket and had to pay $1100 and had to go to court for it,” said Mendoza.

“What could have cost me a mere $100 ended up costing me way more than I or anyone bargained for just because there was no law implemented to allow us to have a driver license,” he said.

Driving without a license also takes away from being able to do the simple things in life such as parents taking their children to school or going to a grocery store.

“In order to take my kids to school I’ve had to take them walking, ask a neighbor or friend for a ride, or have needed to pay for a taxi,”Lopez explained.

“The parents, mostly moms because they stay at home, either walk to and from home to school every day, or pay a neighbor to drive them, or drive illegally,” said Noemi Rodrigues, a fourth grade teacher at Bowman Elementary in Hayward.

“The kids whose parents walk them tend to miss a lot of school in the rainy season as well because it becomes difficult to walk to school in bad weather conditions,” said Rodrigues.

The Hayward Unified School District has started to require parents who volunteer in a classroom or field trip to be fingerprinted as well, which has caused a big drop in parent-teacher volunteering.

“We have no more parent volunteers and we barely go on any field trips anymore because parents are scared of being deported and are not authorized to chaperone without being fingerprinted,” said Rodrigues.

Finding a decent job has also become very difficult for immigrants especially since most jobs now require a license or a state identification card.

Samuel Costilla, who is also an undocumented immigrant, said, “I’ve been here for over 10 years and have only been able to get a job as a construction worker and only because my boss has seen that I’m a hard worker. That’s the only reason he hasn’t let me go even due to my failure of having any legal identification.”

Navarro shared Costilla’s sentiment, stating that he also has difficulty finding work due to his undocumented status.

“I’ve only been able to get a job picking crops in the fields since most jobs require a proper identification and a license,”Lopez said.

Rates of fatal crashes have held steady since the 1994 law. The number of fatal crashes involving drivers without valid licenses increased by 17 percent nationally from 1998 to 2007, which was evidence from a 23-year study by the DMV. Over the same period of time in California, fatal crashes increased by 49 percent, according to the report.

“It would be a better opportunity with the bill passing because I will not have to fear getting stopped by a police officer. I would feel better emotionally and economically,” saidLopez.

Mendoza added, “I will not believe in this law until I see the license in my bare hands, so hopefully it is true.”