Capitol Alert: California immigrants can get licenses with foreign ID, in-person interview

05/09/2014 12:45 PM

05/09/2014 12:55 PM

Foreign government-issued cards, utility bills and marriage licenses could be among the documents immigrants living illegally in California can use to get driver's licenses, Department of Motor Vehicles officials said on Friday.

Immigrant advocates in the Legislature had tried fruitlessly for years to pass a law offering licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, finally succeeding with last year's Assembly Bill 60. Now the debate has turned to questions about what the licenses would look like - a question that brought a federal rejection earlier this week - and how immigrants can obtain them.

Advocates have sought an expansive list of documents immigrants can submit to get the licenses, suggesting everything from labor union cards to baptismal certificates. They have argued that many immigrants arrive in the country without any documentation.

During a Friday press conference, officials described a two-part process: immigrants can establish their identity with government-issued documents like foreign passports, birth certificates and national ID cards.

To prove California residency, immigrants will be able to use things like utility bills, leases, and school or medical records. The current proposed list is not yet finalized so it could be subject to change.

People who can't produce government-issued identity documents will be able to sign up for in-person interviews with DMV officials. There, immigrants could build their case with things like a marriage license, a school transcript or an income tax return. Officials described the interview option as the first of its kind in the nation.

"We heard from individuals that they may not have the more secure documents if you will," said Kristin Triepke, the DMV's policy chief for license operations, and "that is why we are proposing to have our investigative staff conduct this review."

The push to let undocumented immigrants drive legally hit a separate obstacle this week. The federal government rejected California's proposed design. Per a 2005 law intended to deter fraudulent identification documents like the ones terrorists carried on Sept. 11, 2001, IDs for people not in the U.S. legally must be obviously different from regular IDs.

California's pitch, which would feature a different letter on the front of the licenses and a small disclaimer on a back corner, was not sufficiently distinct. Now the California DMV must come up with a new idea and print the licenses in time to have them available for a Jan. 1, 2015 deadline.

"We are working on getting this law implemented from January 1st, and we're continuing on that," said Armando Botello, a DMV spokesman.

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