Merced’s Department of Motor Vehicles office bustled Friday morning as people stood in a line that stretched outside on the first day licenses were available to undocumented immigrants.
Every seat in the building was taken as people waited for their turn to take the written test on the computers in the lobby, which were all occupied. Friday marked the first day people who can’t prove they entered the United States legally were allowed to apply for a California driver’s license, made possible by Assembly Bill 60, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013.
Jose and Sylvia Reyes walked out of the office smiling, because he was one step closer to getting the license – he passed the written test. “I’ll feel better tomorrow once I pass the driving test,” he said in Spanish. “It’s a big relief.”
The 32-year-old Jose, who is undocumented, said he has lived and worked as a farmworker in Merced for about a decade. He said he has been driving without a license. But if everything goes right with the driving test, he’ll no longer have to worry about losing his car if he gets pulled over by police.
Sylvia Reyes said it’s a “big step” to be able to drive legally. She won’t have to be anxious while he’s driving to and from work. “Now just makes it a lot easier and a lot better,” the 35-year-old said.
Across the state, 1.4 million people were expected to apply for a license under AB 60 over the next three years of a program aimed at boosting road safety and making immigrants’ lives easier.
California officials couldn’t predict how many people would immediately apply, but the number of people making appointments for a license more than doubled when immigrants were allowed to sign up.
Jaime Garza, a DMV spokesman, said that number held true in Merced, where the office had 71 appointments scheduled Friday for people who wanted to apply for a driver’s license. An average day draws 30 in Merced.
As of noon Friday, the state saw 6,189 applications for licenses directly related to AB 60, he said. Garza noted that offices statewide offered more appointment times in an attempt to meet the expected increase after AB 60 went into effect.
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.
Dora Hernandez, 35, of Merced waited outside the DMV office for her ride after passing the written test. She said she plans to take the driving test early next week. “We’re going to wait to do it until Monday,” she said.