Beginning in 2015, undocumented immigrants will have the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses in California through the passage of Assembly Bill 60. This is very exciting news for many immigrants. However, there is information that applicants for this new privilege need to be aware of prior to taking the steps necessary for obtaining the driver’s license.
Differences of the new licenses:
The licenses for undocumented immigrants will be different from all other licenses that those with valid social security numbers obtain. They will say “Federal Limits Apply.” A license that has this wording will make it immediately apparent that the bearer of this license does not have a valid social security number. However, California Highway Patrol and other state law enforcement have been a part of the making of this new program. It is their position that a person with an AB 60 license will not be transferred to immigration agencies (such as ICE) as part of routine traffic stops. The Department of Motor Vehicles has also indicated that their files containing names, addresses and other information on undocumented immigrants will not be shared with any other agency. If, however, an individual’s records are subpoenaed as part of a criminal or other investigation, the information requested may be provided to the requesting party as with any other license.
It is important to understand the meaning of the language “Federal Limits Apply.” The driver’s license will not be a valid form of identification in a federal context. This means that the license cannot be used in contexts such as ID to enter a federal building, a federal courthouse, at an airport or for immigration appointments. The license will only be valid to drive lawfully in California.
California will not be issuing identification cards under AB 60. They will only be issuing driver’s licenses. Due to the language on these cards it will be clear to anyone who sees the driver’s license that the individual likely does not have immigration status. It would be advisable to use the display the license only if absolutely necessary, such as if a police officer requests to see a driver’s license in a proper traffic stop.
Applicants with past driving histories
If an applicant had a history in a different state or in California, their name and date of birth will be matched to that history. This would mean that if there are outstanding citations or other matters that need to be cleared, they will have to do so before obtaining the new license. This is something that can be begun now, future applicants can request their histories and then take the necessary steps to clear any issues they may have.
Clearing past histories can be problematic if the driving history is out of state. For example, if a person had a DUI in a different state where that state’s requirements were not met, then the individual may have to travel to the corresponding state to clear the history. If this is the case, they may have to go through checkpoints and thus place themselves at risk by traveling.
Is it a risk to obtain the license?
Ultimately, the decision to obtain the license is going to be a personal choice. However, it is important to keep in mind, that if a person is driving without a license, they are constantly putting themselves at risk. This license provides individuals without lawful status with a way to drive lawfully in California. For an undocumented individual without the right to lawfully reside in the United States, further violating the law by driving without a license where one is available is certainly not recommended.
There are certain assurances that California has made to ensure that undocumented drivers will not be unfairly targeted. The Department of Motor Vehicles in California has indicated that they will not be sharing their information with other government agencies as a matter of policy. Law enforcement in California such as the Highway Patrol has also been trained to not stop or detain anyone based on their immigration status, nor are they authorized to refer drivers they stop or pull over in routine traffic stops to immigration authorities.
Individuals with the license should remember it is a California driver’s license. It is not for use in a federal context. In other words, if federal immigration authorities ask to see identification, this license should not be provided to immigration.
For information on the application process for a California Driver’s license please visit the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s website at www.dmv.ca.gov/ab60/
If you have any questions on how the new program will impact you specifically, please feel free to contact our office at (619) 773-7333 to speak to an immigration attorney directly.