After Giving Over One Million Undocumented Residents Driver Licenses, California Offers Them New State IDs and Protections
In Democrat-controlled California, you don’t have to be legal to have a legal way to drive. Just ask the one million-plus undocumented immigrants granted Golden State driver licenses since state lawmakers passed a measure in 2013 that established special licenses expressly for drivers without legal resident status.
California lawmakers passed AB 60, otherwise known as the Safe and Responsible Drivers Act, as part of a broad effort to adopt more inclusive policies toward immigrants, decriminalize their daily lives and maximize their contributions to the economy.
Since the law was enacted in 2015, more than one million of the special driver licenses have been handed out and more than 700,000 have renewed them.
Undocumented immigrants in California contribute about $3.1 billion a year in state and local taxes while contributing $11.7 billion in taxes nationally, according to Washington D.C.-based research outfit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“With AB 60, what we did was recognize the needs of many hard-working immigrants living here and contributing so much to our great state,” said Luis Alejo, a supervisor for Monterey County who previously served as a member of the state Assembly.
Now, new legislation signed by Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom in September will make other California IDs available and a list of new protections to undocumented immigrants.
According to a press release issued by the governor’s office, a group of new bills set to go into effect over the next few years will: allow undocumented Californians to obtain state identification cards; provide undocumented street vendors greater access to local health permits; give immigrant students greater access to in-state tuition at public colleges and universities and to English as a Second Language courses at community colleges and more options to finance their college educations; offer low-income Californians, regardless of their immigration status, eligibility for legal assistance in civil matters affecting basic human needs; improved access to community health workers and promoters who can facilitate and provide culturally and linguistically responsive care; ensure Cal/OSHA postings will be provided in various languages to protect workers and support safe workplaces; and create an alternate court plea system for defendants charged with drug offenses, which mitigates particular harm for non-citizen Californians.
“We’re a state of refuge – a majority-minority state, where 27 percent of us are immigrants,” Newsom said in the release. “That’s why I’m proud to announce the signing of today’s bills to further support our immigrant community, which makes our state stronger every single day.”
Eric Figueroa, a senior manager at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, is one of many experts who have publicly announced the more flexible ID laws may do more than help people on an individual level. The IDs empower undocumented immigrants to look for better jobs and gain better protections from employers trying to steal or withhold wages.
“It helps build the economy broadly — by unlocking people’s potential — and it helps the workers by giving them more options,” he said.
Some opponents of the special license law claimed it would make roadways less safe, because immigrant drivers may not be able to read traffic signs in English.
But a 2017 study by the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University showed those safety concerns were speculative. The rate of total accidents, including fatal accidents, did not rise and the rate of hit-and-run accidents declined.
Opponents of the special driver licenses and new IDs also have asserted the new documents will simply encourage more illegal migration to California, which will further strain the state’s budget to provide education and other services.
Proponents say the special driver license has been a real boon to immigrants and the state’s economy, but others, including some immigrant advocates, say it has drawbacks and risks, since law enforcement and immigration officials can access the license and new ID information.
Regardless, California has pushed forward with the special driver licenses and new ID program and there’s no convincing Newsom his state’s not going in the best direction.
Said Newsom: “California is expanding opportunity for everyone, regardless of immigration status.”