Feds reject design of driver’s license for immigrants in U.S. illegally

From left, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (partially visible), Sen. Kevin de León, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez give a thumbs-up as Gov. Jerry Brown holds up a signed bill that will allow immigrants lacking legal immigration status to obtain California driver's licenses.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has rejected California’s initial design for a driver’s license for immigrants in the country illegally, saying it is not distinguishable enough from permits given citizens.

“To satisfy the statutory and regulatory standards DHS recommends that any modifications ... ensure that the license (1) clearly states on its face and in the machine readable zone that it is not acceptable for official federal purposes and (2) uses a unique design or color indicator to distinguish them from documents that meet the standards,” wrote David Heyman, assistant secretary for policy, and Philip A. McNamara, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles will go back to the drawing board and redesign the driver’s license, according to Armando Botello, a spokesman for the agency.


“While we are disappointed by this ruling, the DMV will continue to work vigorously with lawmakers, affected communities and federal officials to design a license that complies with federal law and allows over a million undocumented California residents to drive legally and safely on state roads,” Botello said in a statement.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill last year that would provide driver’s licenses to those in the country illegally so they can drive to jobs and be required to take a test to show they are safe drivers.

The proposed design rejected by federal officials is different from a regular driver’s license in two ways. Instead of the initials DL for “driver’s license,” it has the initials DP for “driving privilege” on the front. On the back, the license has a disclaimer saying it is not usable for federal purposes, which include identification for boarding a plane.

The notation says the document “does not establish eligibility for employment or public benefit.”

The federal officials wrote that the Real ID Act requires markings “to allow Federal officials to quickly determine whether a license or identifcation card may be acceptable for official purposes” including “accessing Federal facilities, boarding federally-regulated commercial aircraft or entering nuclear power plants.”

Senatte leader Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Ricardo Lara, chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus, wrote to the secretary of homeland security urging him to reconsider the rejection.

“I also would urge you to provide assurance that DHS will not seek or use information provided by driver’s license applicants for civil immigration enforcement purposes,” Steinberg wrote.