DMV prepares to issue high volume of immigrant driver’s licenses

The California Department of Motor Vehicles announced on Wednesday that it will be adding staff, appointment opportunities and extending office hours in up to 60 locations to accommodate the anticipated demand for driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants next year under Assembly Bill 60.

AB 60, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, will allow people who are in the country illegally to apply for driver’s licenses as long as they can provide identification from their home countries. The DMV expects to issue an additional 1.4 million licenses in the first three years of the law’s implementation.

Starting Jan. 3, the Merced DMV office, 1313 W. 12th St., will be open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. only for driver’s license appointments. It will not offer extended weekday hours. The DMV office in Los Banos will not offer any extended hours or Saturday hours.

According to the DMV’s Office of Public Affairs, the agency will also hire between 800 and 1,000 new staff members statewide to help with the high volume of license applicants. Five staff members will be added to the Merced office.

Crissy Gallardo, an organizer with the Merced Organizing Project, said it is estimated that about 9,000 individuals in Merced County will qualify for a driver’s license under AB 60.

MOP, UC Merced and the American Civil Liberties Union organized an informational forum in Atwater on Wednesday to educate the 100-plus people in attendance about the application process.

According to Gallardo, AB 60 licenses will benefit all Californians because they will help promote safety on roads. “The reality is people are driving without licenses because they have to get to work,” she said. Allowing unauthorized immigrants to take a driving test will ensure that they are better and safer drivers, she explained.

Having a state-issued license will also allow them to qualify for better auto insurance coverage, Gallardo added.

Those applying for an AB 60 license will have to provide proof of identity and California residency. Last week, the DMV released a list of documentsthat meet state guidelines. For example, to prove identity, applicants may use a Mexican passport, a Mexican Electoral Card and the Mexican Consular Card. However, documents vary depending on country of origin. A complete list can be found on the DMV website.

Stephanie Kamey, an organizer with the Northern California ACLU, advised those who plan to apply for a license to go to a DMV office and ask for their driving record to ensure they don’t have outstanding fees or citations. Event organizers also passed out driver handbooks with practice exams.

“There’s no point in applying if you’re not ready to take the exam, so make sure you study,” Kamey told those present. She reminded them that if they decide to take the exam in Spanish, they will have an additional test page that ensures applicants understand road signs.

The new licenses, which will cost $33, will look almost identical to regular licenses. The only notable difference will be the phrase: “Federal limits may apply” on the front of the license. The back will read: “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes. This license is issued only as a license to drive a motor vehicle. It does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits.”

According to DMV officials, people can now start scheduling appointments 90 days in advance, double the current 45-day window.

Kamey recommended that those with special immigration issues consult a lawyer before applying.

Gallardo said that being allowed to obtain a driver’s license is a big weight off people’s shoulders.

“Most of (undocumented immigrants) drive in fear,” she said, explaining that fear of being pulled over and having to pay vehicle impound fees is a big concern.

Organizers hope to replicate Wednesday’s forum in south Merced and Winton. Dates are yet to be determined.

For more information on the AB 60 implementation, people can visithttp://ab60.dmv.ca.gov.

BY: Sun-Star Writer & Journalist, Ana B. Ibarra Merced