Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Thursday granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, reversing his position on an issue legislative Democrats have pressed for years.
Brown signed the bill at a ceremony in Los Angeles, the state's largest media market. The Democratic governor is scheduled to travel to Fresno this afternoon for a second ceremony promoting the bill's enactment.
The legislation is the latest in a series of victories for illegal immigrants in California. Brown signed legislation in 2011 allowing illegal immigrant college students to receive public financial aid, and he approved a measure last year making driver's licenses available to some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children and are allowed to work here under federal rules.
Brown said in his 2010 campaign for governor that he opposed making driver's licenses available to illegal immigrants. He called the measure a "little piecemeal" solution that "sends the wrong signal," and he urged comprehensive immigration policy changes instead.
Brown said last month that he changed his mind because of "foot-dragging on the part of Congress and not creating immigration reform."
Assembly Bill 60, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants by Jan. 1, 2015. The license must include a mark distinguishing it from a regular license, such as the letters "DP," for driving privilege, instead of "DL," for driver's license.
The license also is required to include a notice that it is only to drive a vehicle and does not establish eligibility to register to vote or obtain employment or public benefits. Immigrant advocates say driver's licenses will protect illegal immigrants from fines and from having their vehicles impounded in routine traffic stops, while reducing the number of motorists who are untrained, untested and uninsured.
Most Republicans in the Legislature voted against the measure. Opponents say it will reward non-citizens for entering the country illegally and will encourage illegal immigration.
According to a legislative analysis, 1.4 million illegal immigrants could seek licenses over three years.