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Feds pressured to change ruling on immigrant driver’s licenses



Sergio Lopez, a member of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, testifies before state officials on a law that allows immigrants without legal status to apply for driver's licenses.
Sergio Lopez, a member of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, testifies before state officials on a law that allows immigrants without legal status to apply for driver's licenses.
Josie Huang/KPCC

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Latino legislators and immigrant advocates are urging the Department of Homeland Security to drop its opposition to the planned design of licenses for California drivers in the country illegally.

In a letter to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, federal officials stated that the design of the licenses being rolled out in the coming year does not meet national security standards.

But supporters of the proposed design say that careful thought went into creating a license that would not draw undue attention to immigrants.

"I think when we see that’s there been a bad decision made by one of our federal agencies, California and its governor should kind of push back," said Assemblymember Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

Related: Feds reject design of Calif. driver's licenses for immigrants living illegally in the state

Alejo co-wrote a letter on behalf of the Latino Legislative Caucus, asking the Department of Homeland Security to reconsider.

He's also author of AB 60, the law that made California the largest state to allow immigrants lacking legal status to apply for driver's licenses.

Under the law, the new licenses would bear the marking “DP” as in “driving privilege" instead of the typical "DL."

But federal officials said that the design fell short of the requirements of the REAL ID Act passed in 2005. That law set standards for drivers licenses and other documents to prevent fraud. Illinois' licenses for immigrants, for example, bear a purple band.

The agency wants a more identifiable design or color for the new California licenses, as well as a disclaimer on the front of the card that makes clear it’s not a form of federal identification. The California DMV was planning on putting the disclaimer on the back.

State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has also contacted DHS. Also resisting the changes are immigrant advocates such as members of the statewide Drive California coalition.

"I think it’s very critical all of our residents are protected from discrimination by anybody who might see the license whether it be landlords, grocery store clerks," said Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.

In the meantime, representatives for Governor Brown’s office, the DMV and Homeland Security say they will continue working together on this issue.

The law is to take effect January 2015 although DMV officials have said they hope to beat that deadline. It's not clear how much of a delay, if any, the DHS assessment will have on the introduction of the licenses.