"See You On the Road" - AB 60 and API Communities
With a smile, Sonny Villar said, “Magkikita tayo sa daan,” as he wrapped up his testimony at an Asian Pacific Islander (API) media briefing on AB 60 driver’s licenses last Monday at the Asian Resource Center. California’s AB 60, also known as the Safe and Responsible Driver Act, went into effect January 2015 and allows all eligible California residents to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status. API community organizations provided materials in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese, Urdu, Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, and Khmer.
As a Filipina-American who can understand and speak Tagalog, I chuckled to myself, before his words were translated to English. Villar had said, “See you on the road.”
I admired Villar’s ability to welcome immigrants and community members to understand the impact of AB 60. His story and remarks symbolize hope for undocumented immigrants seeking the ability to simply drive to work, pick up their kids from school when they call in sick, and even use their licenses as a form of identification with the state and local law enforcement. It was not until I heard the testimonies of undocumented immigrants at the media briefing that I was reminded of how much I take my driver’s license for granted as an American citizen.
As I read the AB 60 FAQ sheet in Tagalog, I took a moment to myself to appreciate the accessibility that Drive CA is creating for the 416,000 undocumented API immigrants in California.
Villar, one of an estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants eligible for AB 60, has diligently been preparing for his driver’s license test scheduled for early March. Villar has been working as a caregiver for over 12 years to support his family back home in the Philippines.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would still be a caregiver,” he remarked, “I love my job, but it is very, very tiring.”
Villar’s long days are made even longer because he has to take several buses to get to work, rather than just getting into his car and driving there. Unfortunately, he is not the only immigrant who struggles with transportation. Juhee Kwon, Program Associate with the Korean Community Center of the East Bay, read a testimony in both Korean and English from a community member named Ms. Kim.
“I am counting down the days until I will be able to legally drive,” she relayed.
Ms. Kim, an undocumented Korean domestic worker, has had to postpone hospital visits and work around her husband’s schedule to complete simple tasks like grocery shopping. With an AB 60 license, she will be able to go about her daily life more easily and freely.
What does this mean for all drivers?
After nearly two decades of community advocacy to pass AB 60, our work is not done. The Drive CA coalition and the ACLU of California are currently working to ensure immigrants understand the process by which to apply for an AB 60 license as well consider the potential risks.
Staff attorney Jenny Zhao with the Asian Law Caucus, understands the fear of being deported in our communities.
“We’re here to say that people should make their own decisions, but that the vast majority of community members have successfully obtained the license without having experienced any kind of immigration consequences like deportation,” Zhao said at the media briefing.
During the media briefing, Villar later asked, “Can I drive outside of California… like to Reno or Las Vegas?”
Laughter emerged around the room, but Villar’s question did reflect an important point of clarification. Can AB 60 license holders drive outside California state lines? The answer is yes: they can, but they should exercise caution because they will not be guaranteed the same protections they have in California. The reason for this is that AB 60 licenses look slightly different than other California driver’s licenses. But as long as they are within California, state and local law enforcement agents may not discriminate against anyone who presents an AB 60 license.
As a matter of fact, it is also unlawful for businesses, landlords, government agencies, or programs that receive state funds to discriminate against you based on the type of license you have. However, AB 60 licenses cannot be used to earn benefits that you are not already eligible for, such as voting. AB 60 licenses also cannot be used to board an airplane or enter restricted areas of a federal building because federal limits apply.
In the end, driving with a license translates to greater safety on our roads now that more immigrants will become tested, licensed and insured drivers. As of yesterday, the CA DMV reported that 129,000 undocumented Californians have been awarded a license after having passed written and driving tests. This is a historic milestone and the Drive CA coalition remains committed to the successful implementation of AB 60.
Katherine Pantangco is an Organizing and Community Engagement Intern with the ACLU of Northern California.