Undocumented immigrants in California started applying for driver's licenses for the first time Friday, a change officials expect will prompt a rush of new applicants across the state.
CA DMV: AB60 Information
As of 3 p.m. Friday, the DMV saw more than 11,000 AB 60 applicants statewide. On a normal day, the DMV averages about 3,200 first-time driver's license appointments.
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The number of people making appointments for a license more than doubled when immigrants were allowed to sign up. The California Department of Motor Vehicles expects 1.4 million people to seek a license in the first three years of the AB 60 program.
"This is a dream come true pretty much, getting my driver's license," Juan Carreno said while waiting at a DMV office among hundreds in Granada Hills. "When I heard about it I was really happy and I started studying for the driving test."
Carreno, 27, has been living in the US since he was 5 years old. He said he's paid more than $6,000 in fines for driving without a license.
"I've been getting tickets, but this is going to be my opportunity to start clean again," Carreno said.
Ukranian immigrant and mother Liubov Zubiuk said she's been dreaming of this day for years.
"Right now I'm really dreaming to get my papers, to get right with the law, and I'm dreaming to go study for nursing," Zubiuk said. "I'm really excited because now finally we can drive with the baby, to the clinic anytime. We don't have to take a bus because it's so difficult with the baby."
Appointments are required to apply for a license except at four newly-created DMV offices. One new DMV office in San Jose that will serve as a temporary driver's license processing center features nearly 100 windows to process the expected rush of new applicants, NBC Bay Area reported.
One of those drivers who hopes to have a license is Hermenegilo Reyes, who told NBC Bay Area on Thursday, "I have been studying. If God allows, it will be doable."
For Reyes, an undocumented resident of San Jose, road safety and insurance issues are not as important to him as simply being able to drive to work and get his errands done, without fear of getting arrested or deported.
"It's a necessity in this country," he said.
In the western Orange County community of Stanton, a long line wound around the DMV building by 6:30 a.m. as visitors waited for the office to open at 8 a.m. The line began to form at about 4 a.m. in some of the season's coldest overnight temperatures.
"This is a big opportunity for me," Sammy Moeung, a 24-year-old Cambodian immigrant, told The Associated Press in Stanton. "Having this is moving a step forward in life, in California and the United States."
Moeung, of Buena Park, said he arrived at about 4 a.m. because he didn't want to wait another day to get a license. He said he needs it to avoid having to ride his bike to work at his brother's doughnut shop.
California is one of 10 states that now provide licenses to immigrants in the country illegally. The licenses issued to immigrants without legal status will include a distinctive marking and are not considered a valid form of federal identification.
Immigrants in the country illegally have not been allowed to apply for a driver's license in California since the state began requiring proof of legal presence during the 1990s.
Immigrant advocates have cheered the licenses as a way to integrate immigrants who must drive to work and shuttle children to school. But critics have questioned state officials' ability to verify the identity of foreign applicants, citing security concerns.
Opponents of the program plan protested Friday in front of the Long Beach district office of bill co-author Sen. Ricardo Lara. The protesters were part of groups that included the Tea Party, We the People Rising and Oath Keepers who called the program a waste of taxpayer money that makes California's roads more dangerous.
More than 20 protesters were outside the senator's office at midday, holding signs, copies of the U.S. Constitution and chanting. Lara was not at the office.
Law enforcement officials say the program will improve road safety because licensed drivers must be tested and insured. A DMV study based on 23 years of crash data found that unlicensed drivers were more likely to cause a fatal collision than licensed drivers.
"Now we're going to make sure they know what the rules are, and that they feel safe behind the wheel," said Jessica Gonzalez of the California DMV. "And if they do happen to get in an accident, they feel comfortable enough to wait for law enforcement to get there."
State insurance officials hope the change will increase the number of drivers holding auto insurance.