Calif. allows illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses

People celebrated after California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
People celebrated after California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall.

LOS ANGELES — Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday adding California to the growing list of states allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

Immigrant advocates have long lobbied for the change in the nation’s most populous state. The licenses would carry a distinction on the front of the card that states the document may be used for driving, not as federal identification.

Several immigrant advocates initially raised concerns that the marker will contribute to racial profiling. The bill includes protections against discrimination.


Brown predicted that California’s endorsement of driver’s licenses for immigrants will mean more states will follow.

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‘‘This is only the first step,’’ he told a cheering crowd at the signing ceremony outside City Hall in Los Angeles. ‘‘When a million people without their documents drive legally and with respect in the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice. No longer are undocumented people in the shadows.’’

Brown was scheduled to repeat the signing later in Fresno, the heart of the vast Central Valley agricultural region.

State and local officials touted the importance of getting immigrants properly trained and tested so they know how to drive and know traffic rules in California.

‘‘That’s what this bill is about, making the streets of this state safer,’’ Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told the crowd.


Over the last two decades, immigrant advocates have pushed to get licenses restored in California.

The effort took on added significance in recent years as immigrants caught driving without a license began seeing their cars impounded and wound up being screened by federal immigration authorities for deportation.