1 step from a driver's license

SACRAMENTO -- California is one step closer to allowing approximately 400,000 undocumented youth who qualify under the deferred action program to apply for a driver's license.

DMV officials early last week reversed their initial announcement that the licenses would be available, pending detailed information from the Department of Homeland Security.

Last Thursday, the DMV issued a statement confirming what they had initially said about granting driver's licenses to eligible youth under the deferred action program.

"It appears that young people who receive federal deferrals will be eligible for California driver's licenses, but it remains uncertain whether clarifying legislation or regulations will be necessary," said Armando E. Botello, DMV public affairs officer.

"Under current state regulations, only certain types of federal immigration documents support the issuance of a California's driver's license. Further, state legislative or regulatory clarification may be needed if the federal government's new deferral program results in the issuance of new or different immigration documents," added Botello in an e-mail statement.

The DMV has been hesitant to give a definitive answer because they are waiting to see if the documentation that is provided under the federal work program is acceptable documentation that can be used by the DMV to issue driver's licenses.

While the DMV awaits a response from the Department of Homeland Security, they urge those who may qualify to be patient.

If driver's licenses are granted to some undocumented immigrants under deferred action, it will signal a sigh of relief for one California legislator who has spent the past decade trying to pass legislation that would grant all undocumented immigrants the chance to apply for a driver's licenses in the state.

"It makes me happy to hear the likelihood of certain undocumented students receiving their driver's license. It's a step forward and something I have long fought for. It just doesn't make any sense to me to grant work permits and not allow those same people to apply for a driver's license so they can get to and back from work," said Assemblymember Gil Cedillo, D-Los Ángeles.

Eligible students under the deferred action program will be granted a work permit for two years without fear of deportation.

Despite numerous failed attempts to get legislation passed, Cedillo says the issuance of driver's license to undocumented immigrants has always been a matter of public safety.

Cedillo compromised with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants the chance to apply for a California driver's license. The effort failed in the Assembly.

"I made a deal with Arnold that we would pass legislation to provide driver's licenses to the undocumented as a matter of public safety. It's important to get people tested, screened and then allowed to drive legally on our roads, and I trusted Arnold, as our governor to support the bill, but at the end of it all, he didn't," said Cedillo.

The widely known failed compromise didn't keep Cedillo from trying to get legislation passed.

Last Friday afternoon, he submitted another piece of legislation known as AB 2189 to help the DMV in sorting out documentation issues.

Under AB 2189, any federal document received by a person that is granted deferred action can use that documentation as acceptable proof of legal presence in order to apply for a California driver's license.

According to the bill, "existing law requires the (DMV) to issue driver's licenses to applicants who meet specified criteria and provide the department with the required information." Further, "the department must establish that the applicant's presence in the United States is authorized under federal law."

While the DMV waits to release a final decision on granting licenses to the undocumented, the question has surfaced if those who qualify under the deferred action program will qualify for any other public benefits.

According to Arnold Torres, a policy consultant in Sacramento, it is unlikely those in the deferred action program will be able to qualify for any public benefits with the exception of the driver's licenses.

"I highly doubt they will be eligible to apply for any other public benefits. I think it makes sense they be allowed to apply for a driver's license considering they will be allowed to work for two years in this country," said Torres.

If the DMV does not grant driver's licenses to those in deferred status, it is likely they may be given a work permit.

"A work permit makes sense. If the DMV is not going to issue driver's licenses, they may consider a work permit which is something I have advocated for as an alternative to driver's licenses for the undocumented simply because the legislation keeps getting turned down," said Torres.

It is likely those under deferred action will have employment protections given the issuance of work permits, but it appears nothing else will be granted to them.

Republican legislators do not foresee the granting of any public benefits to the undocumented.

"While well-intentioned, I have concerns about expanding services at a time when budget constraints have cut services to other California residents," said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, in an e-mail.

Still, the best solution for undocumented immigrants as a whole is comprehensive immigration reform, said Conway.

"Comprehensive Immigration Reform would include long term solutions by the federal government to finally secure our borders, eliminate incentives that encourage illegal immigration and keep our communities safe from drug cartels and human traffickers," said Conway. "We must promote a reasonable legal process that eliminates hurdles to citizenship for families and individuals that will become productive members of our community," said Conway.

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