Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in the United States
As of May 2017, twelve states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington), the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have laws in their books that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license or some type of driving permit. Meanwhile, other states such as New York and New Jersey are debating whether to grant its illegal residents access to state issued driver's licenses or have enacted and repealed such laws as in the case of Oregon.
In the state of California, undocumented residents were able to get a driver's license since the early 1990s. However, California blocked off this access in 1991, by asking all driver license applicants to provide a social security number. Two years later, California explicitly committed to denying illegal aliens access to state issued driver's licenses by passing Senate Bill 976. Under SB 976 anyone requesting a driver's license from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) needed to provide proof of lawful presence in the United States.
The denial of driver's licenses to the undocumented community did not sit well with some of California's state legislators. Gil Cedillo, for example, chipped away at SB 976, an attempt to provide the undocumented community in California with access to state issued driver's licenses. In 2003, one of Cedillo's proposals (Senate Bill 60) gained significant support in California's State legislature, was signed by former Governor Gray Davis, but did not become a law
According to Tang (2018), Cedillo decided to scrap the bill because Governor Davis, who had signed the bill, was dealing with a gubernatorial recall election. Between 2006 and 2012, Cedillo continued the fight to grant undocumented California residents access to driver's licenses. However, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not approve of any of the efforts to license undocumented aliens in California taken by some of state legislators such as Cedillo during his term as governor.
According to Andrea Silva, assembly member Luis Alejo joined the fight to license Alien California residents early on in 2013. Various progressive organizations such as the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), the National Immigrant Law Center (NILC) and community activists rallied behind Alejo. However, not everyone was on board with the AB 60 law. For example, some groups such as Unlicensed to Kill and Californians for Population Stabilization resisted such measure. In the past, groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform have also supported laws denying undocumented aliens access to California driver's licenses.
In 2013, the undocumented residents of California gained the right to access state issued driver licenses. California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 60 (AB 60) into law. Currently still known under its bill number, AB 60 allows illegal California residents to access state issued driver's licenses. These driver's licenses are not REAL ID Act compliant. This means holders of these driver's licenses cannot board an airplane, for example, or enter federal facilities. Moreover, all applicants need to have their vehicles insured. However, some California residents who do not support the AB 60 law questions whether these safeties are enough.
The AB 60 law did not take effect until the beginning of 2015. In the first twelve months, a little over 600,000 alien residents in California who applied and met all the eligibility requirements were able to obtain a driver's license. This number continued to increase in the following months. By the end of 2017, a little over 900,000 alien residents in California had gained a driver's license under the AB 60 law. With an increase in AB 60 driver's licenses, at least one study suggest there has been a decrease in hit-and-run incidents.
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