A window has opened for undocumented workers to obtain drivers licenses in California.
The practice, once legal but since outlawed for nearly 15 years, could return under President Obama's program that gives work permits to illegals who came to the United States as children.
The California DMV has been taking some heat for what it will or won't do. Here's what we found out:
It will be possible for undocumenteds approved under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to receive California licenses, if the government grants those folks one of the legal-status documents required by the DMV, department officials told the Weekly.
Those might include a Employment Authorization Card or a Temporary Resident Identification Card, per the DMV's website.
It's still up in the air, however. Not long after we spoke to the DMV, we were sent this statement:
As the DMV initially stated, it appears that young people who receive federal deferrals will be eligible for California driver's licenses, but it remains uncertain whether clarifying legislation or regulations will be necessary. This is because under current state regulations, only certain types of federal immigration documents support the issuance of a California driver's license. Further state legislative or regulatory clarification may be needed if the federal government's new deferral program results in the issuance of new or different immigration documents.
It's a sensitive matter because some conservatives in Sacramento don't want to see it happen. They argue that state law explicitly outlaws the concept of illegals getting California drivers licenses.
Tea party state assemblyman Tim Donnelly said this last week:
The California DMV has announced that it will grant driver licenses to illegal aliens who have been granted a two-year quasi-amnesty by the Obama administration. Not only is this wildly unpopular among the citizens, but it creates a national security risk. The voters of California have made it perfectly clear that they favor keeping our driver licenses secure.
Until the 1990s, California allowed the undocumented to get licenses. Over the last decade state lawmaker Gil Cedillo has attempted to resurrect the permission. A version of his proposal even passed the state legislature only to get shutdown by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who vetoed the law despite promising to sign it.
Immigrants' rights advocates argue that not allowing people who are integral to the economy — dishwashers, car washers, line cooks, hospitality service workers, field hands, et. al. — learn the rules of the road via licensing is like shooting ourselves in the feet.
What's more, undocumenteds' lack of licenses, they've argued, has led to wholesale seizures of their cars whenever they've been pulled over by police (the LAPD has notoriously curtailed the practice in L.A.).
Cedillo has penned a new law in an attempt to grant licenses to illegals once more.
[Corrected at 10:51 p.m. Tuesday]: A spokesman for Cedillo says no such law is in the works but that the assemblyman would consider drafting language, if necessary, that might allow the DMV to give licenses to folks allowed to stay under the Obama's amnesty program.