POLITICS

California issues 650,000 driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants in 2015

PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 06:  A security guard patrols the empty parking lot of the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) February 6, 2009 in Pasadena, California. The DMV is closed as part of the first state employee furloughs in California history in response to California's budget crisis. About 90 percent of the state's 238,000 employees have been ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to take two days off without pay each month, the equivalent of about a 10 percent wage reduction, through June 2010. The governor says that the mandatory furloughs at agencies such as the DMV, Veterans Affairs, Department of Consumer Affairs, California Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Child Support Services will save the state about $1.4 billion.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 06: A security guard patrols the empty parking lot of the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) February 6, 2009 in Pasadena, California. The DMV is closed as part of the first state employee furloughs in California history in response to California's budget crisis. About 90 percent of the state's 238,000 employees have been ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to take two days off without pay each month, the equivalent of about a 10 percent wage reduction, through June 2010. The governor says that the mandatory furloughs at agencies such as the DMV, Veterans Affairs, Department of Consumer Affairs, California Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Child Support Services will save the state about $1.4 billion. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)  (2009 Getty Images)

Since California implemented Assembly Bill 60 last January, an estimated 605,000 driver’s licenses were issued to undocumented immigrants in the Golden State, with 400,000 of these licenses issued during the first six months of 2015.

Immigrant rights groups and traffic safety experts have hailed the law because, they say, it means more drivers will be properly trained, licensed and more likely to have car insurance.

"We believe that this new law increases safety on California roads by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel," Artemio Armenta, a spokesman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, told the Los Angeles Times.

But some have complained that under the bill, many applicants have had to wait longer to get an appointment. And even with an appointment, they have to wait in long lines.

Before the law was implemented, the California DMV hired 1,000 temporary employees, opened four additional processing centers and extended hours of operation to include Saturdays.

“It certainly overloads the system,” Ann Coil, Santa Ana Tea Party Patriots coordinator, told the Orange County Register recently. “And, again, we’re giving priority to people who aren’t citizens.”

The licenses have “federal limits apply” printed on them – meaning that federal officials and law enforcement officers in other states are not required to accept them as a valid form of identification.

The legislation, which was authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013.

The bill was part of a host of immigration-related pieces of legislation that have recently become law in California. In August, Brown signed a bill outlawing the use of the word "alien" within California's labor code, one that permits noncitizen high school students to serve as election poll workers and one that protects immigrant minors in civil lawsuits.

California, which at 22 percent has the nation's largest percentage of undocumented immigrants eligible for driver's licenses, is one of 12 states in the U.S. to allow them to obtain licenses.

Groups like Preparándonos para las Licencias, or Preparing Ourselves for Licenses, have been helping undocumented immigrants learn how to obtain a driver’s license and get over the fear of going to the DMV.

"Community members have become very helpful toward each other, to the point where the person who gets their license is willing to help another person by either lending them their car or driving them to the DMV to take their test," said Erika Paz, who created the Preparándonos para las Licencias Facebook group.

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