Turning a New Leaf: Driver’s Licenses in California
It’s been a month since AB 60 - The Safe and Responsible Driver Act went into effect: since then, all eligible Californians can apply for a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status. This is a huge victory that immigrants and advocates fought for over two decades.
AB 60 is an essential public safety program: all Californians benefit from safer roads when drivers are licensed, tested, and insured. Weeks later, the numbers attest to a great start for the program: during the first month of implementation, over 366,000 DMV visits were made for an AB 60 license, and over 57,000 people already received an AB 60 license. The pass-fail rate for AB 60 license applicants was comparable to that of other license applicants in California.
But more importantly, a driver’s license is a necessity for many folks in their daily lives, whether it is to get to work, to drop off their children at school, or to take family members to doctor’s appointments. It means a huge step to acknowledging that immigrants are a part of our community.
Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and undocumented activist, was one of the first to receive a driver’s license in California under AB 60. He shared, “One of the happiest days of my life: a real, legit, government-issued California-approved driver's license… I got this license because I am part of this community–as are my fellow undocumented Americans here in California and across the country.”
Despite the exciting news, we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that AB 60 licenses are truly accessible to all eligible Californians.
For example, the ACLU and our coalition partners are working closely with API and African immigrant community organizations to address specific needs of those communities to improve accessibility to AB 60 licenses. Our coalition website will soon host educational materials in a number of API languages.
We also continue to work to ensure that the federal government respects the privacy of all Californians. In particular, we hope to limit the sharing of information submitted by AB 60 driver’s license applicants with federal immigration agents.
Just a few weeks ago, the National Immigrant Law Center filed a lawsuit that seeks to shed light on how the Department of Homeland Security will access and use driver’s license data. We welcome the lawsuit and hope to get assurance from the federal government that DHS will respect California’s new road safety law and refrain from using the database for enforcement purposes.
After all, people shouldn’t be afraid of getting deported simply for wanting to follow state law and drive legally in California.
Until then, we will continue educating community members about the application process and providing them with information to help them weigh the benefits and risks of applying for a driver’s license.
At the end of the day, we believe this is a battle worth fighting for.
For questions and information about AB 60 licenses, click here.
Stacy Suh is an Organizer with the ACLU of Northern California.