Nearly half a million young undocumented immigrants in California could soon be eligible for a drivers license as part of their participation in President Barack Obama's deferred-deportation program.
According to the Associated Press, any of the state's potential 450,000 applicants for the two-year program would be able to use the federal work permits as proof of U.S. residency under AB2189, which Reuters reported was passed by state lawmakers on Aug 30. The bill is headed to Governor Jerry Brown's office for approval.
If Brown signs the bill into law, California, which has the largest number of potential applicants to the program, would join states like Oregon and Georgia in granting driving privileges under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which took effect last month. U.S. Homeland Security officials said states would be responsible for determining which benefits, if any, they extended to immigrants approved for the two-year permits.
For students like Monserrat Ramírez, the move could yield immediate dividends besides sparing her a two-hour commute each way via public transport to Grossmont College, where she is a freshman.
"With a driver's license, I can get a job basically anywhere," she told KGTV-TV. ""I won't have to worry about catching the bus or being late."
The program, which requires a $465 application fee and does not grant full citizenship, is open to immigrants under 31 who arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday and have lived in the country for at least five years. It is open to current students or military members, or immigrants who have earned a high school diploma, a GED or an honorable military discharge without having any felonies or three or more "significant" misdemeanors on their criminal record.
Critics of the bill, though, say the prospect of a license is a reward for people who don't deserve it.
"I'm getting phone calls from people who are trying to get here and get their citizenship legally and they're saying, 'What about us?'" state Rep. Dan Logue (R) told KGTV. "Why are people being moved to the front of the line and getting benefits we're trying to get?"
["Drive" by Diego Diaz Photography on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]