By Marissa Adams
Free to drive — California eases license restrictions.
It’s late at night for 20-year-old Jessica Bautista. Her shift as a DJ at The Place Banquet Hall is over, and she walks outside to her car. When she turns on the ignition, she feels a wave of fatigue and nervousness come over her.
Like thousands in Southern California, Jessica is driving home uninsured and without a license, hoping she won’t cross paths with a police officer or get in an accident before she makes it home.
But she and thousands of undocumented immigrants will be able to drive legally through a new bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Sept. 30, allowing young immigrants eligible for federal work permits to obtain driver’s licenses.
“Getting a license would be of great help. It is hard to try to get from place to place without a license,” Bautista, a SAC student, said.
Immigrants between the ages of 15 to 31, who have lived in the U.S. at least five years, arrived before the age of 16 and who have been granted deferred action, will qualify to apply.
“I think this is a common-sense bill. At the end of the day, kids who were brought here by their parents will feel comfortable getting to college and work, and the bill allows them to buy driver’s insurance as well as to get proper driver’s training,” Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, said.
Supporters of the bill say that it is not only about opportunity but it is also in the interest of safety for Californians.
“The California Immigrant Policy Center supports training, testing and licensing all California drivers because it makes our roads safer. Not long ago, immigration status was not considered in the granting of a driver’s license in California, and we don’t think it should be now,” Policy Manager Gabriela Villareal said.
Until 1993, illegal immigrants were able to get driver’s licenses without the need for a Social Security number, but then Gov. Pete Wilson signed SB 976, requiring applicants to prove legal status in the United States before being granted a driver’s license.
Now, Gov. Brown has reopened the door for some young immigrants to qualify for a license to drive.
Opponents of the bill argue that the new law is another step closer to granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants.
“I don’t think he made the right decision, but what can you expect from a very liberal governor? His decision just compounds the problems this state faces dealing with illegal aliens,” said Lupe Moreno, Santa Ana mayoral candidate and activist for strict immigration policies.
The Department of Motor Vehicles will issue the licenses beginning on Jan. 1, 2013.
“It will definitely be life-changing,” Bautista said.
For now, however, she continues to drive in the shadows.
“You’re always afraid an unexpected checkpoint might come up.” The changing law, she says, “would make things a lot more comfortable for us.”
Because the federal government does not have a national ID system, states have the freedom to determine who gets to drive and who doesn’t.
He halted deportation of undocumented youth. For two years, those who qualify may seek permission to work, and in some states, drive.
GOV. JERRY BROWN
He signed into law a bill that would grant driver’s licenses to those who qualify for deferred action in California. The law takes effect at the start of 2013
GOV. PETE WILSON
Riding an anti-immigrant wave in the 1990s, he signed a law barring the undocumented from acquiring driver’s licenses.