California Issues Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants

Posted October 9, 2012 in Immigration by


While Arizona has come down hard on undocumented immigrant workers, its sister state, California, is giving some immigrants new rights – if they’re young enough.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed one bill into law on September 30 – AB2189, which allows the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who qualify for a separate federal program instituted in August by the Obama administration.


Help for Young, Acclimated Workers…

The federal program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), delays deportation for immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31 who entered the country before they turned 16 and have lived here since June 15, 2007. Immigrants who apply and qualify are allowed to remain in the country for two years and can apply for work authorization.

DACA will directly help an estimated 1.76 million immigrants under 31 years of age, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Gabriela Villareal

“It is a huge accomplishment for immigrant youth leaders that we all celebrate, and an historic moment in the movement to recognize the enormous contributions immigrants make to our nation,” says Gabriela Villareal, a policy manager with the California Immigrant Policy Center in Oakland, of DACA.

Villareal says her organization believes that the California DMV will now accept work permits and Social Security numbers issued under DACA when an immigrant applies for a driver’s license. “The California Immigrant Policy Center supports training, testing and licensing all California drivers because it makes our roads safer,” she adds. “Not long ago, immigration status was not considered in the granting of a driver’s license in California, and we don’t think it should be now.”

In 2010, Arizona had tried to ban immigrants without work permits from looking for jobs. But in June 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court struck that part of the state’s immigration laws. (The year before, the Court upheld a 2007 Arizona law penalizing employers who hire unauthorized workers.)


. . . but not for Immigrants Stopped for Busted Tail Lights

But Brown also vetoed the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act (AB 1081) – known as TRUST – which would have allowed the state to “opt out” of a federal program that requires local police to cross-check anyone arrested for minor infractions against an immigration database. That federal program is known as “Secure Communities.”

More than 151,000 immigrants convicted of crimes, including more than 55,000 convicted of aggravated felony offenses like murder, rape and the sexual abuse of children were removed from the United States as of June 30 after identification through Secure Communities according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

In California, TRUST was known as “anti-Arizona” legislation, referring to that state’s 2010 immigration law, upheld in part by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, which allows police to check a person’s immigration papers during stops for minor violations.

Immigrant organizations were disappointed by the veto in California. “The program has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deportations of people, many who were stopped for minor offenses, such as selling food without a permit or having a broken tail light on their car,” says Villareal. “In fact, even victims of domestic violence who reported their abuse have gotten caught up in the S-Comm program and put into deportation proceedings.”


Crazy Quilt

The fact that two contiguous states can take such vastly different approaches to immigration shows how difficult it can be for immigrant families to know what’s legal in the United States.

“In the absence of congressional action to create a rational immigration process, everyone agrees that the current patchwork of policies and programs is mismanaged and broken, and it breaks up families,” observes Villareal. 

“States that are taking a commonsense approach to integrating immigrants into their social and economic fabric are moving us forward in a positive way,” she says. “Many states have fair policies to protect wages for all workers, expand access to English classes and encourage civic engagement and citizenship – all in recognition of the contributions made by immigrants to our nation.”

If you’re concerned about your rights as an immigrant, contact an immigration lawyer in your state on

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