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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 14th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 45 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 45

AB 60 allows undocumented immigrants to carry driver's licenses

By HENRY HOUSTON

Jan. 1 is a day that many look to with great optimism—that the upcoming a year will be great—and it’s also a day that ushers in new laws. One piece of legislation that has many excited for the New Year is Assembly Bill 60.

Approved by Gov. Jerry Brown back in October, AB 60 allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in California without proof that their residency is authorized under federal law.

Though the application process will require the drivers to admit that they’re undocumented, there is a clause that will protect them from criminal prosecution.

According to the bill, the California Department of Motor Vehicles estimates there are about 1.4 million drivers who are not licensed or insured.

Hazel Davalos, a Santa Maria-based organizer with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), is very happy with the bill because she thinks it can lead to something bigger—like the federal government taking the immigration issue seriously.

“This will certainly allow undocumented immigrants to integrate into the economy,” Davalos said. “This can also [bring] more revenue to the state because of additional money coming in from registration fees.”

Since the wait for securing residency or citizenship is lengthy—Davalos said it can take up to 20 years for one adult to be processed—this will help in people with their day-to-day activities.

Though it’s illegal, many undocumented immigrants use their cars to get to work, to church, and to drop their kids off at school, she said.

Davalos and CAUSE have been actively lobbying for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

“[CAUSE] has been collecting testimonies from the community, and communicating with those at the community level of government,” Davalos said.

Many people said having their cars confiscated created hardship for their families because it was their only car. As a result, many people ended up missing work.

The CAUSE Testimonies Report collected 91 statements from undocumented immigrants in Santa Maria who had their cars confiscated. According to the report, 85 percent of respondents reported the confiscated car was their family’s only vehicle. Additionally, 51 percent said they were driving to or from school, work, or church.

In addition to losing their car for 30 days, the report said there was a fee of more than $1,500.

“Many of these people are making about $18,000 a year,” she said. “This is an unnecessary hardship that they have to go through.”

But the most heartbreaking thing to Davalos is the trauma car impoundments have on children.

“Kids are raised to see police as someone they can trust,” she said. “But these kids are traumatized. They see the police take their car away. It’s very traumatic. In one case, a family had to stay at the side of the road with their groceries and walk home.”

CAUSE’s study also reported that undocumented drivers don’t pose a threat to public safety because 93 percent of responders were stopped by police for minor violations and 21 percent for vehicle mechanics when their car was pulled over.

However, CAUSE and Davalos are not the only ones who are happy to see this law come into effect.

Santa Maria Police Department Traffic Supervisor Jesus Valle sees a lot of positives with the law going into effect.

“From a law-enforcement opinion, it will allow more cooperation, and from a safety opinion, it will create better-trained drivers, as [undocumented immigrant] drivers will go through the same driving tests as citizens,” Valle said.

He said undocumented immigrants will be more cooperative with police because they will be less likely to submit false identification when questioned.

“Undocumented immigrants will have a valid identification, as opposed to using false IDs and false names,” he said. “Many have a fear that they will be deported if they used their real names, so hopefully this will help curb that.”

Davalos agreed, and said she thinks this cooperation will lead to fewer hit-and-runs in Santa Maria.

“This is a definite solution to the problem of hit-and-runs in Santa Maria. Hit-and-runs happen because the drivers are scared to lose their car,” she said.

There is some who worry that applying for a driver’s license will lead to a paper trail that could lead to deportation, but Davalos hopes to bust this myth.

Under the law, the DMV is starting to work on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. They will be ready for use on Jan. 1, 2015.

Since that’s another year undocumented immigrants will have to go through fearing police impoundment, Davalos said she and CAUSE want to work with the SMPD to relax the city law in preparation for AB 60 so cars aren’t impounded as often.

 

Contact Contributor Henry Houston through the managing editor at aasman@santamariasun.com.




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