Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed a raft of legislation relating to undocumented immigrants, including measures that would enable undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses to drive and practice law.
“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead. I’m not waiting,” Brown declared.
Assembly Bill 60 enables the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants who provide appropriate documentation. These licenses would be marked with the letters DP (“driving privilege”) to differentiate them from ordinary licenses. The state must finish creating a system for issuing such licenses by 2015.
1.4 million undocumented residents are expected to apply for the licenses over the next three years.
Opponents of Gov. Brown’s actions say the bills will spread the idea that the nation’s laws can be broken, and that the documents required to obtain a driver’s license are easily forgeable.
Francisco Porras, a fourth-year political science student, explained that many of his friends have had vehicles taken away because they did not have a driver’s license. “Immigrants have a state of mind that makes them afraid to do things like drive or report things to law enforcement,” he said. “AB 60 will make their lives easier.”
AB 60 may have an outsized impact in the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area, which ranks as the most sprawling metropolitan region in the country and where commuting via car is frequent.
Driving without a license is a misdemeanor under Section 12500 of California’s vehicle code, punishable with fines of up to $1,000, jail time, or impoundment of the driver’s vehicle.
Gov. Brown also signed AB 1024, which would enable undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses to practice law. AB 1024, however, may be in conflict with federal statutes, which could lead to legal challenges in court.
The law was introduced after undocumented immigrant and Cal State Chico graduate Sergio Garcia was certified by the California Bar Association and faced legal questions about his eligibility. The case is currently before the California Supreme Court.
Oscar Urena, a fourth-year sociology student, said the bills will empower the Latino and Chicano community. “Immigrants and Latinos in general are always told, ‘this is not your country’ and similar things, but I truly believe this is the land of opportunity,” said Urena. “It will not stop undocumented immigrants from going to school to study or work to try to live a better life.”
Porras believes the passing of the legislation will provide immigrants with more opportunities. “It will give them the chance to compete for better jobs,” he added.
According to a 2011 Pew Research report, more than 2.5 million undocumented immigrants are residents of California, or 6.8 percent of the state’s population of more than 37.2 million. Undocumented immigrants are 9.7 percent of the state’s labor force.
Additional bills signed into law by Gov. Brown last week include: AB 1159, a bill designed to prevent fraud by people and agencies claiming to provide immigration services; AB 241 (also known as the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights), which would require employers to pay overtime to domestic workers working for more than nine hours a day; and AB 4 (also known as the TRUST Act), which prevents undocumented immigrants who commit minor crimes from being detained longer than necessary so they can be turned over to federal custody.