California issues 110,000 licenses to immigrants in seven weeks

Immigrant driver’s licenses
Sonia Soriano, left, with daughter Kelya, 12, was first in line to fill out paperwork at the DMV office in Granada Hills on Jan. 2, the day California started issuing special immigrant licenses.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

California has issued 110,000 driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country without permission since a new law went into effect last month, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Applicants must pass a written exam and a behind-the-wheel test. Those who are successful are given special licenses that state that they are “not acceptable for official federal purposes,” such as boarding an airplane.

California became one of 10 states that allow immigrants in the country illegally to apply for special licenses on Jan. 2, when a new law, known as AB 60, took effect.

The DMV does not track passage rates of those applying only for the new licenses, although it does release overall license exam passage rates based on the language preference of the exam-taker.


In January, 40% of all license applicants who took the written driving test on an automated touch screen in Spanish passed the exam, DMV spokesman Artemio Armenta said Thursday. He said 51% of those who took the test in English passed.

The DMV estimates that more than 1.5 million people will apply for the special licenses in the coming years. To prepare for an anticipated influx of customers, the agency has opened four new offices and hired an additional 900 employees. Lawmakers added about $141 million to the agency’s budget to cover the cost. 

That was a point of contention for some who are opposed to the program, including some who complain that it rewards immigrants who broke the law with “quasi-amnesty.”

Supporters of the new program say it will improve traffic safety by requiring immigrants who are already driving to know the rules of the road.


After the DMV announced that the number of successful license applicants had topped 100,000, some advocates issued celebratory statements.  

“Together we have a reached a milestone that will certainly make the roads safer for anyone who drives in California,” said Apolonio Morales, political director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles. 

Twitter: @katelinthicum

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