By Nes Lewis
The year is 2015, and for the first time since 1993, illegal immigrants in the state of California are able to obtain a drivers’ license, thanks to AB60. This law, recently enacted by California, follows states such as Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, and Washington where obtaining licenses for illegal immigrants is possible. Opponents of the law cite the infantile need for a sense of security in light of terrorism. Other arguments are founded on the possibility of people using a false name and the decades-old contention that concessions for immigrants will draw more of “them.” People fear that the newly-implemented law will be viewed as an invitation or encouragement for more immigrants to enter the country.
In the first place, the United States is no stranger to immigration–California alone is home to an estimated 2.45 million immigrants. Moreover, AB60 is projected to attract an influx of California residents seeking driver’s licenses. The DMV expects that 1.4 million immigrants will request a license. Because driving without a license is common practice for immigrants in California, those who have already taken the behind-the-wheel test this month report that the intimidation and prior anticipation were worse than the exam, itself. One individual, 37, reports that he had been driving for 15 years already when this bill was finally passed.
Due to the safety concerns for immigrants who drive, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo began the fight for licenses for immigrants in 2001. His proposition was viewed as potentially being in conflict with Federal restrictions, including the more-recent Real ID Act. Notably, Cedillo highlighted security concerns – a high priority in 2001 – as reason to license illegal immigrant drivers. Assemblyman Luis Alejo continued Cedillo’s fight with this in mind, and the bill was approved in 2013. Thanks to the renewed availability of a chance for a license, fewer drivers on the road will be without a license. Additionally, more drivers will be insured, and thus, California roads will become safer. The impact will be a large help to the many, many people who must drive to work and drive their children and drive in constant worry of being pulled over and heavily fined.
Positive impact aside, the drivers’ licenses bear a controversial differentiation from those licenses issued to US citizens. In particular, these IDs say “Driver’s Privilege” instead of “Driver’s License.” Carriers of a DP will not become eligible for employment or public benefit. The DP will not suffice as a government-issued ID card. In this way, the DP does not make a large enough step in attaining equality for new immigrants. Governor Brown shared a statement expressing his hope that “This bill will enable millions of people to get work safely and legally … [and] send a message to Washington that immigration reform is long past due.” Although California has taken steps forward in immigration reform, more work needs to be done for immigrants to live safely and legally.
Most recently, the Mexican government has approved the Mexican Consulate issuing Mexican birth certificates for illegal immigrants in the United States. With a birth certificate, people can obtain a Passport. With a birth certificate, obtaining legal status and living safely in the United States is a more achievable dream. The United States – a nation that was founded by and for immigrants – has not yet finished the fight for equality for the newest incomers. This is why we need AB60, a pivotal law that does well in increasing rights and safety for our fellow Californians. Perhaps we will see continued strides toward recognizing immigrants’ personhood in the years to come.