How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

New state law to let some immigrants get driver's licenses might have little effect

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Traffic on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, Calif.

A new law that allows California driver’s licenses for some young undocumented immigrants kicked in Jan. 1 - but many who’d benefit from the measure already have their licenses.

The law allows driver’s licenses for young immigrants who receive deferred action, a two-year reprieve from deportation under an Obama administration program that began last August. But what it mostly does is guarantee that documents issued to deferred action beneficiaries will be accepted by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Some states have moved to bar deferred action recipients from obtaining driver’s licenses, but this was never the case in California. Ivan Ceja, a 21-year-old college student from Compton, applied for his license as soon as he was granted deferred action in October. He received it in November, before the new state law took effect.  

“I started driving at 17, and halfway through the semester during my first semester of college I got pulled over, and so I had the experience of having my car taken away," Ceja said. "And that was really sad, I remember. A lot of people don’t realize what a big difference it makes to have a car, like a license. It just feels great. I feel a lot more confident."

The driver's license law was sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, a longtime advocate of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, whose term ended recently. When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure last fall, some immigrant advocates were disappointed, seeing Brown’s move as a symbolic nod while he vetoed a more wide-ranging measure known as the TRUST Act.

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Romney's plan to eliminate deferred action prompts some young immigrants to apply

Deferred Action

Josie Huang/KPCC

Hopeful deferred action applicants at a recent orientation workshop in Los Angeles.

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made comments to media about the Obama administration's deferred action program, chances are he wasn't planning to inspire new applicants for temporary legal status. But it seems he has.

The program, which took effect in August, allows young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation. Romney commented last week that if he is elected, he'd honor the reprieves already granted, but his campaign later clarified that he would eliminate the program. And this, in turn, has prompted some would-be applicants who’d sat on the fence to get their paperwork ready.

One is 24-year-old Vanessa Guerrero of Fontana, who had hoped to eventually apply for deferred action. But like other young undocumented immigrants, she’d hesitated admitting her status to the federal government. That changed last Friday, when she marched into a downtown Los Angeles immigration attorney’s office, ready to start the application process.

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'I'm going to apply for the best job out there': A deferred action applicant gets good news

Courtesy of Ivan Ceja

Ivan Ceja took this screen shot from the USCIS website this morning when he learned his deferred action application had been approved - and added his own celebratory comment, coined by a friend, before posting it to Facebook.

It's been more than a week since we last heard from Ivan Ceja, a 20-year-old Long Beach City College student from Compton who was among the first to apply for temporary legal status under the deferred action program in mid-August.

Ceja has been diligently checking online since to see what the status of his application is, especially since he submitted his fingerprints to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement two weeks ago today.

Last night, he checked the USCIS website before going to bed and still, no news. This morning when he woke up, he checked again - and his life changed. Listen to his story.

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2 key immigration bills are pending on Brown's desk - will he sign?

Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

TRUST Act supporters marched near in the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, September 6, 2012. The bill would place restrictions on cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration agents. Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sunday to sign or veto it.

It's going on the end of the week, meaning there's a good chance that California Gov. Jerry Brown may wait until the bitter end to sign or veto two key state immigration bills with a Sunday signing deadline.

The two measures are the TRUST Act, which proposes placing limits on state and local cops' cooperation with federal immigration officials, a bill known as AB 2189, which would direct the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants who qualify for deferred action, a new federal policy allowing temporary legal status for young people who have been here since childhood.

Brown hasn't given any indication as to when he might make the call on either bill. But there seems to be a stronger chance he may approve the driver's license bill, sponsored by Los Angeles Democratic Assembly member Gil Cedillo. As for the TRUST Act, the tea leaves aren't so clear. 

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'I've never had fingerprints taken': A deferred action hopeful navigates one last, scary step

Art by José Luís Agapito/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Young undocumented immigrants who apply for renewable two-year reprieves from deportation must submit live-scanned fingerprints as part of the process. Federal immigration officials say that so far, fewer than 100,000 of the 2 million eligible people have applied since the program began last month.

What is it like to submit one's fingerprints to the government after spending a lifetime in the shadows? Tens of thousands of young undocumented immigrants around the country are finding out as the move through the approval process for deferred action, a form of temporary legal status under a new policy the Obama administration established this summer.

Submitting fingerprints and having one's photograph taken at a government office is the last step before applicants learn whether they will be approved. If they are, they'll get a two-year renewable reprieve from deportation, and the opportunity to work legally in this country.

One applicant in the final stage of the process is Ivan Ceja, a 20-year-old Long Beach City College student. He submitted his application for deferred action on Aug. 15, the first day it was possible. A few days ago, his mother drove him from their home in Compton to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration office in Gardena, where he had his fingerprints scanned.

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