ONE year ago, California’s Assembly Bill 60 (the Safe and Responsible Driver Act) was implemented statewide, granting eligible immigrants legal driver’s licenses regardless of status. Over 600,000 undocumented Californians have benefited from the historic law, swiftly passing identification and residency requirements, and both the written and behind-the-wheel tests to obtain lawful permits.
“The Department of Motor Vehicles committed to successfully implementing this new law to increase safety on California’s roads, by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a press release. “One year after AB 60 implementation, there are 605,000 more drivers on the road who have passed all testing requirements and demonstrated their knowledge of California’s rules of the road.”
On average, the DMV issued approximately 50,000 new driver licenses per month under AB 60 during its first year of implementation, with the most licenses issued in March, according to a press release. DMV offices statewide have had over 2 million AB 60 customer visits, knowledge and drive test examinations since January 2015.
Since California Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in 2013, and full implementation two years later, AB 60 has improved the quality of life for many immigrant families.
“It’s been life changing for many of the Filipinos in our communities to receive an AB 60 license, because they get to work on time. They don’t have to take or wait for the bus. They get to do their errands, they get to take their children to school, make sure that they’re safe,” Nikole Cababa of the Filipino Migrant Center told ABS-CBN News.
The benefits of AB 60 include prevention of being ticketed or arrested for driving without a license, avoiding the expensive costs of car impounding, and increasing safety on California’s busy roads.
“12 percent of all California drivers do not have a license. 1 in 5 vehicle crashes involve someone driving without a license,” said LA Office of Immigrant Affairs representative Joseph Bernardo in 2015. “This is not just a policy, economic, and moral issue—this is also a safety concern.”
However, one year later, thousands of applicants are still lining up at the California DMV to get the process started. Many immigrant communities, particularly African and Asian Americans, have faced confusion, lack of understanding, major delays and inconsistencies with the new program.
About 11,000 eligible immigrants have still not been accounted for AB 60, for multiple reasons, including: the lengthy application review process, language barriers and lack of communication, improper training of DMV staff, and proper identification requirements.
Filipino applicants have also had a hard time with the process, due to lengthy requirements and issues with certain Asian passports and documents. Philippine passports, for instance, are not accepted right away by the DMV, leaving Filipino applicants stuck in secondary review.
“It feels like discrimination when all these other folks are able to present their passport and go through the process and get their licenses, we are being put through this long process where there’s no criminal record…it’s just the issue of identity, which they’re asking more than immigration [customs] asks for,” said Aqui Soriano Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center. “We’re really trying to advocate for less and less live-in condition or less live-in situations, because that just opens up more opportunity for [work] abuse as well.”
Local consulates, including the Philippine consulate have tried to help Filipinos produce acceptable identification documents to comply with the stringent requirements, but the main issue is extreme delays with secondary review.
“We’re obviously advocating with the DMV that they have to accept all the Philippines passports that it’s a primary document that can be received,” Cababa added. “Other issues include poorly-translated DMV documents and lack of Tagalog-speaking staff.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles, in collaboration with the Drive California Coalition, the African Advocacy Network, the California Immigrant Policy Center, and other community partners, hosted a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 5 to address the serious issue with inconsistencies in applying for AB 60.
“If it wasn’t for the collaboration with these organizations and the diverse community, we wouldn’t have had 600,000 immigrants go to the DMV and rightfully obtain their license,” said Anthony Ng, an immigrant rights policy advocate with Advancing Justice – LA. “We want to make sure that each population is accounted for, because this law affects so many people’s lives, jobs, and taking care of families.”
Advancing Justice and its partners promised to work with immigrant communities, local governments and the DMV to help sort out issues and backlog of applications, as more immigrants expect to get licensed. Advancing Justice, the Filipino Migrant Center, the Pilipino Workers Center, and the DMV all have conducted public outreach events and multi-lingual trainings to educate new drivers in the greater Los Angeles/South Bay area.
“The law has changed lives and created powerful new opportunities for community members who worked diligently for two decades to make the licenses a reality. With so many more drivers licensed, tested and insured, Californians are benefitting,” Ng said.
“Thanks to the hard work of immigrant community members and the leadership of Gov. Brown, our legislature, and the DMV, hundreds of thousands of community members are now able to freely drive to work, school, worship, and more,” said Luz Gallegos with TODEC Legal Center.
“At the same time, our work is far from over. We will continue to advocate strongly so that all community members who call California home are able to equitably access this vital opportunity.”