Activists Urge ‘Branding Free’ Driver’s Licenses
By Jacqueline García, EGP Staff Writer
Pro-immigrant rights groups this week called on California’s governor and the federal government to expedite approval of the design for California driver’s licenses for those in the country without legal status, and to do so without requiring large markings they say could lead to discrimination.
On Monday, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and California Table—a network of 40 community organizations in California—urged Gov. Jerry Brown and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “convey the state’s immigrant-friendly attitude” in the design approved for the new licenses. The licenses are only intended to demonstrate the holder has met the state’s driving requirements, but could lead to racial profiling and discrimination if the final design is too different than those issued to citizens and legal residents, activists said.
Lea este artículo en Español: Activistas Piden Licencias de Conducir Que No Discriminen a Indocumentados
Homeland Security in April rejected the initial design submitted by California’s Dept. of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) on grounds that it did not meet the federal agency’s “statutory and regulatory standards.”
In a letter signed by Assistant Secretary for Policy David Heyman and Philip A. McNamara, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs, DHS said the license design must meet these standards: “1) Clearly states on its face and in the machine readable zone that it is not acceptable for official federal purposes; and 2) Uses a unique design or color indicator to distinguish them from documents that meet the standards.”
CHIRLA Political Director Apolonio Morales on Monday noted that 20 years ago undocumented immigrants in California could get a regular driver’s license, with no extraordinary markings. He said the licenses let police know “who you were and where you lived” without subjecting the holder to racial profiling.
“The spirit of AB 60 [authoring undocumented residents in California to obtain a driver’s license] needs to be maintained, Morales told EGP. He said if California follows in the footsteps of Illinois, which approved a different color license for its undocumented residents, the license holder faces the danger of being discriminated against due to their legal status.
CHIRLA member Patricia Salazar told EGP she hopes the governor keeps his promise to push for a driver’s license with as few differentiating marks as possible. She said she agreed with the initial idea of having the letters DP (Driver’s Permit) instead of DL (Driver’s License) and a statement on the back noting the license does not qualify as a federal document for purposes of identity.
“Putting more marks will lead to discrimination,” she said, echoing the sentiment of many at the press conference.
“I was very happy when they said licenses would be issued to us, but my happiness turned to fear when DHS said they want more [identifiable] marks,” LA Voice member Socorro Vazquez told EGP. “That mark could be very visible and could lead police officers to discriminate” against the holder of the license, she speculated.
California legislators have taken up the issue of driver’s license for undocumented immigrants multiple times over the last decade, passing legislation approving it more than once only to have it vetoed by former California governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
AB 60—the Safe and Responsible Drivers Act—signed into law by Gov. Brown on Sept. 13, 2013, allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license starting in January 2015, provided they pass driving tests and meet other criteria, and Homeland Security signs off on a design in time.
According to CHIRLA, as many as 1.4 to 1.7 million people are expected to apply for the new licenses.
“CHIRLA was part of the negotiations for this driver’s license,” said the organization’s president, Angelica Salas. “We fought tooth and nail to have one ready to go into effect in January 2015,” she said standing in front of Ronald Reagan State Building. .
Salas said CHIRLA agrees the driver’s license has to be different, but added the changes should be discreet. Authorities should be able to tell the difference but they should not be obvious to the rest of the community, she explained.
“That’s what we fought for and that’s what we want, and we want to ensure that in January 2015 that’s what we get,” Salas said.
Vasquez added he hopes the governor will work with immigrant and civil rights groups to ensure that the ultimate design of the driver’s licenses does not single out undocumented immigrants for unwarranted discrimination.
The groups say they plan in the near to future hold a variety of forums and events to inform the public what documents they will need to apply for the driver’s licenses when the time comes, and to give them a chance to voice concerns they may have about the design or applying.
“We are working with the DMV so they can understand the complexities of obtaining certain documents, Morales told EGP. “We want to know what the options are and in the end,” he said, “what we want to do is protect [undocumented] families.”
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June 12, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.