Almost half of newly-issued California driver’s licenses went to illegal immigrants

© David McNew
Four out of ten California drivers’ licenses issued in 2015 went to immigrants who were in the US illegally, under a new and controversial state law. The time, effort and expense required by the program have got some citizens grumbling.

Assembly Bill 60, which was adopted in 2013 and came into effect last January, granted the right to acquire a driver’s license in California to people living in the state illegally. Out of the 1.4 million total licenses in 2015, an estimated 605,000 had been issued to undocumented immigrants under the AB-60 program, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

In the first six months of 2015, of the 759,000 original driver licenses issued in the state, more than half – 397,000 – were AB-60 licenses, the DMV said in July.

“We believe that this new law increases safety on California roads by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel," California DMV spokesman Artemio Armenta said.

A total of 830,000 undocumented immigrants applied for licenses, putting the acceptance rate at around 73 percent.

The program is expected to cost the state $141 million over a period of three years, according to the Orange County Register.

Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in 2013, as part of a trio of immigration reform measures that included the removal of the word “alien” from California’s labor code as a term describing illegal immigrants. Among other things, the new laws will also allow noncitizen high school students to serve as poll workers in elections.

Until the 1990s, states did not explicitly restrict driver’s licenses to legal residents. The push for the bill came from state leaders and law enforcement officials arguing that roads would be safer with more licensed drivers.

“DMV committed to successfully implementing this new law to increase safety on California’s roads by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel,” said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto in a statement. “One year after AB 60 implementation there are 605,000 more drivers on the road who have passed all testing requirements and demonstrated their knowledge of California’s rules of the road.”

However, licenses granted to illegal immigrants have the words “federal limits apply” printed on them, which means that police officers in other states aren’t required to accept them as a valid form of identification.

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There are an estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants in California, meaning that the initiative has been enormously successful if measured by the proportion of illegals that now have licenses. In fact, the DMV had to hire around 1,000 temporary employees and opened four new processing centers to handle the surge in applications. It also extended hours of operation to included Saturday. Despite this increased capacity, many applicants in 2015 were unhappy with increased wait times at the DMV.

“I have mixed feelings,” 76-year-old Kent Moore told the Orange County Register. “These folks have jobs. And they support families. If they go through the credential process, they shouldn’t be denied.

“But I paid my dues. I’ve been a model citizen. I don’t feel I should have to wait in line for hours, behind newly arrived people who are here illegally.”

The DMV has since returned to its regular hours, and only 200 temporary employees will remain on staff by 2017.

Besides California, nine other states and the District of Columbia allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.