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CA Driver's Licenses Won't Require Proof Of Legal U.S. Residency

Tahsin Hyder |
September 20, 2013 | 2:02 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Governor Brown came out in support of the bill on Sept. 13. (via Flickr)
Governor Brown came out in support of the bill on Sept. 13. (via Flickr)

Advocates of immigration reform in California celebrated when Governor Jerry Brown said he would sign the Safe and Responsible Driver's Act, also known as Assembly Bill (AB) 60. 

If passed, AB 60 would make California the tenth state to allow immigrants without proof of legal residency in the U.S.—an estimated two million people in the state—a chance to obtain driver's licenses.

Joseph Villela, Policy Director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, called AB 60, “A step in the right direction.”

According to Villela, Gov. Brown, "felt compelled to sign this bill into law, due to the fact that Congress has not advanced a solution towards fixing our broken immigration system." Brown long shelved the topic and surprised many when he accepted its provisions. 

This "common sense bill," as Villela calls it, will give immigrants unable to obtain a driver's license, the chance to become registered, insured drivers. 

SEE ALSO: Neon Tommy's Full Immigration Coverage

Villela said, “They will be able to know the rules of the road. They would also be able to be fully insured, and most importantly, they will be able to able to drive without fear that their property will be taken away by law enforcement."

Advocates of reform have longed tried to enact this bill so privately-owned impound facilities can stop profitting from the losses of undocumented immigrants. Under currents laws, those without valid licenses would likely have their car impounded after a minor traffic violation. With no way to retrieve their vehicle, the facility would secure the entire purchase price of the car at auction.

The driver’s license will include a statement to the effect of “not valid for identification,” or “not for establishing citizenship.” How discreet this language will be along with its placement on the physical card are still under question. 

Many undocumented immigrants are fearful of opening themselves up to persecution if they come forward to apply for this new license. Villela says California is the first state that has included protections within the bill to hinder law enforcement from using this license as a way to determine citizenship status for investigation.

SEE ALSO: Neon Tommy's Full Coverage Of Gov. Brown

The summary of the Senate Assembly states, “The bill would prohibit the use of this information to consider an individual’s citizenship or immigration status as a basis for criminal investigation, arrest, or detention.”

These provisions have forced advocates and historians to grapple with just how far California has come in regards to immigration reform. 

Roberto Suro, author of "Writing Immigration: Scholars and Journalists in Dialogue," explained that on a national level, “It’s almost dangerous for people to assume this is fixing something.”

He believes a driver’s license should only be used to validate a person's legal ability to drive a vehicle. Yet Suro explains how twenty years ago, state governments began using the license as a tool to handicap anyone unable to provide proof of legal residency. He adds that within that time, California began to use a driver’s license, among other state granted privileges, to discourage undocumented immigrants from staying in the U.S. 

Called “self-deportation,” this idea assumes that undocumented immigrants will return to their home country if they are denied basic necessities in the U.S. According to Suro, AB 60 “is undoing the strategies that have been put into place over the last twenty years in the absence of a functioning immigration regime.”

After this bill becomes law, it will create a new foundation upon which other provisions could be enacted to protect basic human rights for all who live in California. 

"This bill will have tremendous impact on the immigrant community," Villela said. He expects Gov. Brown to sign the bill within the next couple of weeks. 

Reach Tahsin Hyder here.



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