With immigrant rights advocates and community leaders looking on, Gov. Jerry Brown stood on the steps of L.A. City Hall on Thursday to celebrate signing a new law that will allow people in the country illegally to receive a permit to legally drive in California.
“This is only the first step. When a million people without their documents drive legally with respect to the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice," said Brown, who officially signed the bill earlier Thursday. "No longer are undocumented people in the shadows, they are alive and well and respected in the state of California.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck also applauded the legislation.
“Today is a great a day for Los Angeles, for all of California, and we hope an inspiration for this nation," Garcetti said.
The bill by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) was changed at Brown’s request to meet requirements of the federal Department of Homeland Security, including to require that the permits carry the notation "DP," for driving privilege, to distinguish them from regular driver's licenses.
In addition, a notice on the cards will say: “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."
Backers said the law would make roadways safer because there would be less motivation for drivers afraid of being deported to flee the scene of a traffic accident. They would also be tested on the rules of the road.
"That’s what this is about, making the streets of this state safer," Beck said.
Garcetti the new law also made "common sense" given the practical realities of workers going to and from work.
“They are making contributions every day to our economy,” he said.
Mario Cardenas, who sits on the Council of Mexican Federations, part of broad coalition of groups pushing for the legislation, said advocates would be working with their clients to educate them about the new law.
“We are going to work on educating our people to learn the laws of the road and then to get their license,’’ he said. “We need to send a message that we will be responsible with the card.”
The DMV has until no later than Jan. 1, 2015, to develop a process for accepting alternative documentation, but Alejo said agency officials told him they may be able to begin issuing the licenses in September or October of 2014.
The governor planned a similar event Thursday afternoon at Fresno City College.