Local

California unauthorized immigrant license program issues over 1 million cards

FILE: The A.B. 60 driver's licenses are marked with the words
FILE: The A.B. 60 driver's licenses are marked with the words "Federal Limits Apply."
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Listen to story

01:05
Extra Audio:
Download this story 0.0MB

More than one million people living in the country illegally have obtained a California state driver's license under a law that went into effect in 2015. Now the debate begins on its impact.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 60 into law in October 2013 and the measure took effect on Jan. 1, 2015. 

The legislation allows the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a driver's license to applicants who lack proof of legal residence, such as a Social Security or Green Card, as long as they meet all other requirements, including proof of identity, California residency and passage of written and driving tests.

The DMV announced that as of the end of March, some 1,001,000 licenses had been issued under the law. Officials had predicted the program would hit the one million threshold within the first three years. 

"The program continues to be a very successful program," said Artemio Armenta, a spokesman for the DMV. "The demand has been steady and the issuance has been steady as well."

California's licenses for unauthorized immigrants has been criticized by groups that oppose illegal immigration. They say the licenses encourage immigrants to remain in the country without documentation.

Advocates of the program said the licenses would ensure drivers receive proper training and discourage drivers in the country illegally from fleeing the scene of a crash.

"Our position is this really helps to make California's roads safe," said Armenta.

Stanford University researchers issued a study last year that says the law appears to have reduced hit-and-run crashes and saved insured drivers about $17 million, which they would have absorbed from at-fault drivers fleeing collisions to avoid possible arrest.

To deal with the extra license applications from unauthorized immigrants, the DMV opened four additional processing centers, three in Southern California and one in Northern California, and added a thousand additional employees.

"We had a sense that we would see a high demand in the first year," said Armenta. "We had a lot of preparation before A.B. 60 actually got implemented."

The department issued more than 600,000 licenses during the first year of the program. Armenta said the workload has now stabilized and is about what officials expected in a given year before the law change.

Estimates put the number of  immigrants in the state lacking legal documentation at about 2 million to 3 million people.

Licenses obtained under A.B. 60 won't comply with pending federal requirements for standardized identifications, known as Real I.D. Starting in 2020, all domestic air travel will require Real I.D. or a passport. Those without documentation showing they are in the country illegally will not be able to obtain the California Real I.D.