CA OKs Driver's License to Undocumented Youth

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on October 02, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

To complement Obama's policy allowing certain undocumented youth to apply for work permits, California will also permit those youth to get a state driver's license.

Governor Jerry Brown approved the bill on Sunday which will allow hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license in California. The state is the first in the nation to extend this privilege to youth newly eligible for work permits.

Many are praising the law as a positive move for both immigration reform and public safety. But not all California law makers are happy about the new legislation.

Some Republicans in Sacramento have already criticized Brown's decision to sign the bill stating that immigration is a federal issue, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The bill's purpose appears to primarily be public safety, according to a statement by its sponsor, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo. Allowing these youth to get driver's licenses will mean that they can get insurance for their vehicles to protect themselves and others in the case of an accident.

It also provides them with a means to legally get to school and work if public transportation is scarce, something important for this group which was only just given the ability to legally hold jobs.

Still, immigration policy is a part of this new bill.

Governor Brown believes the bill is an obvious next step in creating a path to citizenship for these young people, according to a statement by his spokesman.

While immigration is often the concern of the federal government, in some cases it isn't necessarily an exclusive power.

When it comes to issues under state control, such as driver's licenses or law enforcement, states can make their own decisions with regard to certain immigration policies. So long as the policy doesn't unfairly discriminate against immigrants or provide them with citizenship rights, it generally falls within the state's ability to legislate.

A driver's license isn't a benefit of citizenship. Any legal resident can receive one.

If the law is preempted by federal law or the Constitution it could be taken down by a court. But so far it doesn't appear anyone is planning to mount a challenge to the law.

This isn't the first time California has tried to extend drivers licenses to undocumented people living in the state, reports the Los Angeles Times. Cedillo proposed a similar measure in 2003 which was repealed after a voter backlash. So far it doesn't appear that this law will suffer the same fate.

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