Society

800,000 Undocumented Immigrants Get Driver's Licenses

| by Lauren Briggs

California has issued more than 800,000 driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants nearly two years after the state implemented a law allowing them to legally drive.

AB 60 first became law on Jan. 1, 2015, reports the East Bay Times. Since then, approximately 806,000 undocumented immigrants have become licensed.

"Many of them have been able to drive their kids to school and to run errands, when many times they were taking buses that would take them up to three hours to get from point A to point B," said Maricela Gutierrez, executive director of immigration advocacy group SIREN. "It opened up new opportunities."

But many of the newly-licensed drivers say they worry that deportation forces will target them due to their information being on the DMV registry, with Donald Trump preparing to become president.

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"We have definitely been hearing about a lot of fear from our community, especially with a new administration coming on board and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that's been out there," said Gutierrez. "Everything is theoretical as we speak, but we are definitely taking precautions."

Critics say the law will protect license holders from immigration enforcement, and that it will not guarantee that they have auto insurance. Opponents also point to a new 2017 California law that will automatically register many of those with licenses to vote, though state officials say those who are undocumented will not be added to the voter rolls.

As of Feb. 3, 13 states offered driver's licenses to some undocumented immigrants, notes ProCon. Each state has different requirements, though most offer special licenses to those who can prove state residency and/or a record of paying taxes, but cannot prove their identity through a social security number or other official means.

Though those licenses specify that they are not valid for federal identification, voting or other actions, many people say that being able to have a license has improved their lives.

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"It's a completely different feeling because you no longer have to worry about seeing a police car," a man identified only as Ramon told the East Bay Times. "You're much more at peace when you drive. You can drive long distances with your family — to Disneyland or to the Monterey Bay Aquarium -- with confidence. You don't live in fear."

Sources: East Bay Times, ProCon / Photo Credit: Michael Ocampo/Flickr

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