New wording approved on driver’s licenses for those in U.S. illegally

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials give a thumbs-up as Gov. Jerry Brown holds up a signed bill allowing immigrants lacking legal immigration status to obtain California driver's licenses on Oct. 13, 2013.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Federal officials have approved new wording on California driver’s licenses that would be issued to immigrants in the country illegally, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The letter is a key step toward implementing legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

“We are moving forward with this design,” said Jessica Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.


The approved wording says “federal limits apply” on the front of the card, an indication that the license cannot be used for federally regulated purposes like boarding an airplane.

Federal officials had rejected an earlier proposed design, which only had a subtle mark on the front and a disclaimer on the back saying, “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes.”

California is scheduled to begin issuing the new licenses Jan. 1, and the debate over designing the cards has been an ongoing issue. Federal law requires the licenses to be distinguishable from those issued to citizens and legal residents.

However, advocates for immigrants in the country illegally have fought to eliminate, or at least minimize, design differences, saying they would amount to a scarlet letter and prompt discrimination.

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said he was pleased by the federal government’s decision.

“I’m elated that parents taking their kids to school will no longer have to constantly check their rear-view mirror thanks to this common sense agreement between Homeland Security and California,” he said in a statement.


Follow @chrismegerian for more updates from Sacramento.

Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.