A new law passed in California taking effect today allows undocumented immigrants in the state to apply for and obtain driver’s licenses, according to a report from The Associated Press. This reverses an earlier ruling from the 1990s that required proof of legal presence before being allowed to apply for a driver’s license. California currently has the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the nation. Friday is the first day they can receive a driving permit under the new program.
California is joining ten other states that currently allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The program is aimed at increasing safety on the road as well as making it easier for the undocumented immigrants to live and work in California. A study of 23 years of crash data found that licensed drivers were less likely to cause a fatal collision than unlicensed drivers. It is estimated that in the first three years of the program’s implementation, nearly 1.4 million undocumented immigrants will apply for driver’s licenses under its provisions.
To obtain a driver’s license, the applicant must provide the state’s DMV offices with proof of their identity and proof that they reside in the state. Those without the proper identification documents can meet with a DMV investigator to try to qualify for the program. As with other newly licensed drivers, the applicant must pass both a written test and a road test to be approved for a driver’s license. The newly licensed drivers will also be required to hold auto insurance to drive legally.
While immigrants are being encouraged to apply for the licenses by immigration advocates, those with deportation orders or criminal records are being warned to seek legal advice first. California officials have claimed that the number of people making appointments for a license test more than doubled once immigrants were allowed to sign up as well. Immigrant advocates have cheered the new program, but critics have pointed out possible problems in state officials’ ability to verify the identity of foreign applicants and security concerns regarding giving undocumented immigrants driving privileges in the state. The issued licenses will not be considered valid forms of federal identification and will have the phrase “federal limits apply” displayed on them.