Reflections on AB60 and the Need for Immigration Reform

Fall has arrived at last. I hope everybody had a happy Halloween. In my household the cabinets are bursting full of leftover candy. It sure was fun seeing children in my neighborhood dressed in their favorite costumes.

As I recently reported, California Edmund G. Brown recently signed several new, noteworthy immigration-related bills, including AB 60, which allows individuals to obtain a driver's license without having to prove that they have lawful status in the U.S. Meanwhile, business groups have been pressing the House of Representatives to enact comprehensive immigration reform before year's end.

Beginning January 15, 2015, California Department of Motor Vehicles will no longer require individuals to prove they have the right to live in the United States in order to qualify for a driver's license.

Current law in California prohibits issuance of driver's licenses to persons who are not lawfully present in the United States and who lack a social security number. With the enactment of AB 60, DMV will no longer require applicants to provide a valid social security number and evidence of their lawful status in the United States. Instead, applicants may obtain a drivers license by submitting an affidavit supporting their ineligibility for a social security number and their inability to submit adequate proof of USCIS authorization to live in the United States.

To be eligible for a driver's license under the new law, applicants must still present satisfactory evidence proving their identity and residency in California and meet other requirements. The new driver's licenses will bear a unique feature and notice on the front which differentiates them from driver's licenses issued to persons whose presence in the United States is authorized under federal law. (Scarlet Letter, anyone?) AB 60 will also prohibit discrimination against persons who hold or present these special driver's licenses.

While I agree with the aim of the new law, which is to improve traffic safety and save lives by regulating drivers who crisscross our roads on a daily basis, I am concerned that AB 60 may lull people into a false sense of complacency regarding their immigration status. If getting a driver's license means only having to show proof of your identity and the fact that you live in California, then there may be less incentive for unauthorized persons to apply for immigration benefits for which they may be eligible under federal law.

There are a multitude of benefits that go along with having lawful status, including in some cases being granted the right to work in the United States, which in itself can prevent exploitation of the undocumented population for cheap labor. And another thing to remember. Despite Governor Brown's good intentions, AB 60 will not stop the federal government from deporting people simply because California has bestowed them with a valid driver's license. The Obama Administration has removed more people for immigration violations than any previous administration.

It is time for our elected officials in Washington, D.C. to pass comprehensive immigration reform so that the estimated 11.5 million individual living in the U.S. without federal authorization can start on a path to earned citizenship that will entitle them to a driver's license -- and so much more.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.

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