As the California Department of Motor Vehicles prepares for a historic expansion of driving privileges, some immigrants may be left out because they lack documents proving who they are or where they live.
The DMV is hiring about 1,000 workers and opening five temporary offices to handle a flood of driver's license applications beginning Jan. 1, 2015, from immigrants without legal status. In a few months, the agency will issue regulations on the documents required to obtain the new license.
According to a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October, the immigrant driver's licenses will contain a distinguishing mark but will otherwise resemble regular licenses. The applicants may include people from rural villages who never obtained birth certificates as well as day laborers with no fixed address to prove California residency.
At a meeting with DMV officials Thursday night in Bell that drew hundreds of potential applicants, many speakers asked the agency to accept church records, school IDs and other non-government documents.
"A lot of day laborers have lost all their personal identification," said Ana Garcia of the Central American Resource Center. "We provide worker center IDs, and that's all they have. They don't have a permanent home."
Moises Alfaro, a day laborer in the San Fernando Valley, said many of his coworkers do not have an ITIN – an identification number used to pay taxes – because jobs have been scarce. An income tax return is listed in the driver's license law as an accepted document, along with official IDs such as a passport. The new DMV regulations may expand on the options mentioned in the law.
"I also drive and I would like a license, like all of us," Alfaro said. "For all of us, it would be an improvement to get a car."
Some immigrants do not have birth certificates because their births were never registered in their home countries. They are then unable to obtain official documents such as a passport or the matricula consular used as identification by many Mexican immigrants.
Over 40% of births in the developing world are unregistered, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. The figure may be as high as 60% in some Mexican states.
Kristin Triepke, a program and policy development branch chief for the DMV, said the agency has discussed the documentation issue with immigrant rights advocates, consulates and other groups.
"We learned it may be difficult, costly and time-consuming to obtain documents outlined" in the law, Triepke said. "We discussed possible alternative documents such as baptismal records, school transcripts and immunization papers."
Several speakers expressed fear that law enforcement would single out drivers with the immigrant licenses.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) assured them that is prohibited under the new law. He also urged people to start studying for the written test, noting that passage rates for immigrant driver's license applicants have been low in other states.
In Nevada, 75% of immigrants failed the test, according to the Associated Press.