By Julissa Catalan
A new California law (AB60) permitting undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license despite not having proper legal status is set to take effect on Jan. 1.
In an effort to prepare for the estimated 1.4 million immigrants that will become eligible to receive a license, California’s DMV is bringing 900 new employees on board to help facilitate the recent surge within the immigrant population.
According to DMV spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez, the agency has already hired more than 400 new employees and will bring on another 500 before Jan. 1.
“It’s a huge undertaking and we’ve really been working on this since Gov. Brown signed the bill in October 2013,” Gonzalez said.
AB 60 makes California the ninth statealong with Colorado, Illinois, Iowa and Nevadato put this type of law in place.
While somecritics see this law as rewarding illegal immigrantswith rights that only legal citizens should have, the main objective of this law is actually to ensure public safety.
According to Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, it is important for all drivers to understand and follow the same safety regulations.The law recognizes that California as a whole will be a safer state if immigrants who are currently driving illegally are properly taught how to operate a car as well as how to follow the laws of the road according to the state they live in.
Providing licenses to undocumented drivers is also expected to lessen hit-and-run cases in California, as many undocumented drivers flee the scene of an accident for fear of deportation.
The DMV is setting up four temporary locationsGranada Hills, Lompac, San Jose and Stantonwhich are scheduled to be open for three years.
Depending on demand, the leases on the locations may be extended. More employees could also be hired if necessary, as the governor’s funding allows for up to 1,000 new positions.
All employees will be mandated to take diversity training to be adequately prepared.
“There could be a language barrier,”Gonzalez said. “There could be religious issues. And to know how to handle that without immediately saying ‘no’ because it’s not in your everyday norm.”
Service Employees International Union Local 1000the union that represents most of the DMV’s workers, is said to be in full support of this plan.
“For us, it’s more of a social justice thing,” said, Union Statewide Coordinator Ted Burnett.
He says his concern is that undocumented applicants will not be ready to pass the driving examas was the case in Nevada last year when a similar law was passed and 90 percent of prospective drivers failed the test.
To prevent this from happening in California, prep classes are being offered at community colleges throughout the state.
“The DMV is opening up a lot of classes with immigrants to talk about what’s on the tests, give them practice tests and take away the intimidation factor,” Burnett said.
The final design of the new license was approved by the Department of Homeland Security just last week. The objective was to ensure the clear difference between a citizen’s license versus one for an undocumented driver so that it could not be used for federal purposes.
According to Gonzalez, the DMV “feels the AB 60 license design satisfies the requirement so for us we are moving forward with this design.”
Prior to Jan. 1, the DMV is to finalize document requirements for immigrant applicants. So far the department has held four hearings on this topic, and is planning to release a list of acceptable documents for public review before it is submitted to the state Office of Administrative Law for approval.
Public schools across the United States also began to prepare for the recent wave of immigrant students earlier this year. Many of the programs provided diversity training to teachers over the summer so that they were equip to teach new undocumented students by this school year.