On the first day of 2015, more than a million unauthorized immigrants in California may be eligible to get at least one key document missing from their lives —a driver’s license.
On January 1st, AB60 -- the Safe and Responsible Driver Act -- becomes law, as California joins nine other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to grant undocumented immigrants access to licenses.
But immigration advocates are concerned that people will not know about the law, distrust it, or be afraid to apply for the new licenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Seth Ronquillo of Asian Americans Advancing Justice says more than 400,000 Asian-American undocumented could be eligible for the program. He says potential applicants are protected by the TRUST Act which went into effect statewide on Jan. 1, 2014, enabling the undocumented to cooperate with police and law enforcement without fear of deportation.
“The Department of Motor Vehicles is not releasing information to law enforcement in general,” said Ronquillo to NBC News. ”But if there’s a current case against you, like a felony, DMV would give information to law enforcement. If there’s no case, the DMV can’t give information.”
“Roughly 1 in 4 Filipinos are undocumented in the U.S.," said Joanna Concepcion, of the Filipino Migrant Center, "and it's important that Filipinos are well-informed about how this new law could benefit them.”
Once residency is proven, eligible applicants can complete the forms, pay a fee, and take both the written and the driving tests. Community groups hailed the law as a "victory" for immigrant communities.
“Our community members can now drive safely to work and school," said Alexandra Suh of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, in a statement.
Advocates believe such laws boost the economy, and make for safer roads and drivers.