Driver’s License for the Undocumented

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A bill allowing undocumented immigrants to receive a driver’s license will soon become a law in California. Both houses of the California legislature recently passed the bill, AB 60, and it is now on its way to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature.

The Governor indicated that he will sign the bill because it will “enable millions of people to get to work safely and legally.”

The Governor wanted to make sure that the bill complied with federal law and have the license clearly indicate that it is only for driving and not for work or for obtaining public benefits. The author of the bill, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, almost withdrew the bill because he preferred the words to be discreet and written on the back of the license. He later on accepted the amendments to make the distinction clear.

Once signed into law, California will be the eleventh state to provide driver’s license to the undocumented. For a number of years, Washington state, New Mexico and Utah have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s license. Illinois passed a similar law January of this year. It was followed by Nevada, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut and Colorado.

Meanwhile, the debate as to whether the undocumented should be issued driver’s license continues. Some people look at this measure as a form of “quasi amnesty”. According to Mark Krikorian of the Center of Immigration Studies, “What it means is the government formally incorporating illegal aliens into the institutions of our society.”

Another concern is whether the bill undermines federal immigration laws. Under the bill, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will issue driver’s license to people who satisfy the requirements for a license but whose presence in the country is not authorized by federal law. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton predicts that the U.S. Department of Justice will review it once it is signed into law.

Public safety, on the other hand, remains to be the principal argument why more states are enacting similar laws. The Economist reports that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash and they are also less likely to stay in accident scenes. If the undocumented immigrant is granted driver’s license, he would not run from accidents for fear of deportation and will be more willing to cooperate with law enforcement.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said that the law would make the roads safer. Allowing the undocumented to apply for driver’s license would require him to undergo various tests which will determine if he is fit and capable of driving. Also, this would allow them to carry insurance and avoid hit-and-run accidents.

The law will also address the problem of undocumented immigrants who are stopped at routine checkpoints and whose cars are impounded because they don’t have valid licenses. Also, it will help decriminalize the daily activities of the undocumented such as driving his kids to school or driving to work to earn a living.

To ensure that the driver’s license issued is not used to avail of federal benefits, the license issued is distinct from that of U.S. citizens or residents. The license cannot be used for identification when boarding airplanes. It is merely issued for the privilege of driving. The license, however, cannot be used as a basis to discriminate against the holder.

It is hoped that with the passing of this bill in California, Congress will finally see the urgent need to address the problems of the undocumented in the country and pass the immigration reform bill.

(Editor’s Note: REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For more information, you may log on to his website at or call (212) 695-5281.)