Lines at the California Department of Motor Vehicles have been even longer than usual. More than 11,000 people applied for driver’s licenses on Friday, after California became the tenth state to allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive, according to the Los Angels Times. An estimated 1.5 million people are expected to apply for a license within the first three years, according to KNBC-TV.
Alejandro Albores, who has lived and worked in the U.S. illegally for the last 14 years, was one of many who received a driver’s license Friday. The 32-year-old construction worker told the Los Angeles Times he previously had his car impounded after being caught driving without a license, causing him to lose wages. “I won’t have that fear any longer,” Albores reportedly said.
The landmark legislation, Assemblly Bill 60, was passed in California last year and enacted Jan. 1. Under the new law, undocumented immigrants in California can for the first time legally obtain driver’s licenses if they verify their identity and state residency and pass written and driving tests. California has one of the highest concentrations of undocumented immigrant populations in the United States at 2.6 million, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.
"No longer are undocumented people in the shadows. They are alive and well and respected in the state of California,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the bill into law last fall.
More than one quarter of California residents are immigrants and encompass over a third of the state’s workforce, according to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau. If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from the state, California would lose $301.6 billion in economic activity, decrease total employment by 17.4 percent and eliminate 3.6 million jobs, a 2011 study by the Immigration Policy Center and the Center for American Progress found.
In addition to California, residents can now legally seek driver’s licenses in Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut and the District of Columbia, regardless of immigration status. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to support Arizona’s ban on issuing driver’s licenses to immigrant youth. Nebraska is the only U.S. state that bars driver’s licenses to deferred action recipients, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Deferred action is an American immigration policy that grants deportation relief to certain immigrant youth who meet specified criteria laid out by the Department of Homeland Security.
President Barack Obama announced Nov. 20 his controversial executive actions to expand deferred action for millions of undocumented immigrants. “If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” Obama said during his address to the nation on immigration.