The California DMV can start issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants now and there was a rush to San Diego’s offices on Jan. 2, 2015.
A long line stretched outside the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Hillcrest early Friday morning as a new state law went into effect allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for a California driver’s license.
Some studied practice tests while they waited for appointments. Some showed up cold only to learn the schedule was booked solid for days. Others came to simply survey the situation as they considered whether or not to apply for the new kind of license.
“This is an important law for many reasons,” said Maria Camacho, a fast-food worker and the mother of three whose 9 a.m. appointment was two hours behind schedule. “I have to drive — for my job, to do laundry and for my children. I get very nervous when I’m driving and I see cops. This will make me feel more official.”
The DMV has been preparing for the wave of new applications since the state Legislature approved AB 60 in 2013, with the goal of “creating safer roads.”
The DMV scheduled 9,357 appointments from those seeking new drivers licenses last Friday at its 174 offices throughout the state. Applicants must pay a $33 fee, show proof of residency, give a thumb print, have a picture taken, pass a vision test and correctly answer at least 29 of 36 questions about driving rules before a driving test will be scheduled.
Hundreds of people packed into state offices and waited on hours-long lines Friday as California began issuing driver’s licenses to the nation’s largest population of immigrants in the country illegally. Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
An estimated 1.4 million people are expected to seek a license in the next three years.
David and Hector Contreras, brothers from the central Mexican city of Tepic who have lived in California for 11 years, were eager to get driver’s licenses. Both work in construction and need to drive to get to and from jobs.
“We live here. We work here. We need to drive,” Hector said. “It is not a bad law.”
Nearly 1,000 temporary employees were hired to process applications under the controversial law. Office hours have been expanded at offices throughout the state. And all DMV staffers were offered sensitivity training to prepare for the onslaught of new customers, said DMV spokesman Jaime Garza.
“We are going to be assessing everything — how well are we serving the public at large,” Garza said. “We want our folks to understand they may encounter people from other cultures. We don’t want to flatly turn people away who show up without appointments. We are going to help schedule appointment.”
Advocates for the “Safe and Responsible Drivers Act” say the law will ensure that many of the unauthorized immigrants who already drive will now get trained, tested and insured.
Critics argue that AB60 condones illegal immigration. Some believe the licenses could be used to commit fraud and come with security risks.
Christina Madrigal plans to apply for a license even though her friends worry that applying for the license could set them up for deportation or government harassment.
The new cards will be printed with the words “Federal Limits Apply” in the top right corner. On the back, it will explain that the license is for driving privileges only and not for federal use, such as boarding a plane.
“A lot of people are worried that immigration (authorities) will be here,” said Madrigal, who accompanied friends to the Hillcrest DMV on Friday. “Or they are afraid that it will be used against them.”
Supporters of California’s Safe and Responsible Driver Act, which allows illegal immigrants to receive a permit to legally drive in California.
Follow-up legislation makes it illegal for anyone to discriminate against individuals who hold the new licenses.
DMV offices throughout San Diego County and California were packed Friday, prompting some people who showed up for routine DMV business — obtaining a vehicle registration, replacing or renewing a license — to leave after seeing the long lines.
Not David Elizondo of La Mesa.
The 18-year-old showed up in Hillcrest to register his first car, a 2007 Mini Cooper that was a birthday present from his parents.
“I’ll wait all day if I have to,” said Elizondo, who turned 18 on New Year’s Day. “I want to drive my car now.”
This year nine other states plus Washington, D.C., will allow people in the country illegally to apply for driver’s licenses. They are Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont and Washington.