Bill allowing driver’s licenses for those in U.S. illegally advances

Traffic travels north on the 101 Freeway. The California Senate voted Thursday to grant driver's licenses to immigrants in the United States illegally.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO -- The state Senate approved a measure Thursday that would allow immigrants in the country illegally to get California driver’s licenses.

Senate Democrats hijacked the measure a day after its author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), said he was shelving the proposal for the year. Without Alejo’s consent, the Senate cast a bipartisan 28-8 vote for the measure. The measure now goes back to the Assembly for a vote on the amendments.


The bill originally would have provided licenses to immigrants who could document they pay taxes or otherwise work in the United States, but it was changed to ask the Department of Motor Vehicles to determine what documentation would be required.

The bill also was amended to include a special mark and notice on the licenses that indicate the holder is not entitled to vote or get social services. The notation says: “This card not acceptable for official federal purposes. This license is issued only as a license to drive a motor vehicle. It does not establish eligibility for employment or public benefit.”

That notice, included to comply with federal law, had infuriated labor groups, who were pressuring lawmakers to drop the bill, according to Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).

Alejo said he did make a commitment to put off a vote until next year, but said it was to “all the immigrants rights community. There’s a lot of division on what’s on the license, so I said I’m going to get some more time, work it out. We’ll bring it up at the beginning of the year and get it out.”

Senators said that despite the stigma that the special markings might cause, the bill is an advance over the status quo.

“In a perfect world we would have no mark on our driver license,” Lara said. But, he added: “There are hardworking immigrants who need driver’s licenses to do the basic things many of us take for granted.”

Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) said on the Senate floor that Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to sign the bill, but Brown’s office declined to comment.

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said the bill will make California streets safer. Ten other states have already taken the step, he said.

“This measure will ensure all drivers on California highways are properly trained, are properly licensed and properly insured,” De Leon said. “Immigrants continue to drive because of the necessity to provide for their families.”

The measure follows a bill approved last year that provides licenses to a narrow group of young immigrants who have received federal work permits.


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