Driver's Licenses

Latest News on Driver’s Licenses

As the 11 jurisdictions with two-tiered licensing models issue driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, with California and Connecticut implementing their policies most recently in January 2015, we track new developments in licensing. Updates will be made as states revise their policies and implementation plans. Subscribe to the RSS feed to keep apprised of developments nationwide as they occur.

June 30, 2015

The number of immigrants in New Mexico getting driver’s licenses dropped 70 percent from 2010 to 2014. Some say this reflects a downturn in new immigrants coming to the state for economic reasons. Since New Mexico issues the same licenses to all residents and does not track immigration status, how much of the decrease is attributable to undocumented immigrants is unknown.

California and Connecticut have each changed their lists of documents acceptable as proof of identity for their licensing programs. California will now accept passports and consular ID from additional countries, but not foreign birth certificates except during secondary review. Connecticut will accept birth certificates but no longer school transcripts or baptismal records as secondary proof of identity.

In addition, Connecticut will add language to the back of its licenses for undocumented immigrants stating that the licenses can’t be used for voting.

Russell Contreras, “Immigrant driver’s licenses in NM drop to record low,” Associated Press/Albuquerque Journal, June 19, 2015
Uriel J. Garcia, “Since a 2010 peak in immigrant driver’s licenses, state sees dramatic drop,” Sante Fe New Mexican, June 20, 2015
Title 13, Division 1, Chapter 1, Article 2.0 – Driver Licenses and Identification Cards, California Department of Motor Vehicles
Associated Press, “DMV expands documents accepted for immigrant driver license,” San Luis Obispo Tribune, June 30, 2015
Public Act No. 15-79, Connecticut

June 19, 2015

In California, some newly licensed drivers are trading in their older cars for newer ones, no longer fearing having them impounded. As a trend, this could lead to safer roads and cleaner air. California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Fran Clader said that impounds were 4% lower in the first four months of 2015 than during the same time in 2014, although she could not say whether this was a result of licensing immigrants.

After Colorado’s legislature compromised on funding to license undocumented immigrants (see April 23, below), the DMV began scheduling new license appointments again in late May.

In Connecticut, four DMV locations stopped offering appointments for “drive-only” licenses due to a backlog of tests already scheduled.

Araceli Martínez Ortega, “‘Adiós carcachita’: Con la licencia nueva llega el auto nuevo,” La Opinión, April 24, 2015
Mariel Garza, “Driver’s licenses open door to safer rides for those in U.S. illegally,” Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2015
Amy Taxin and Jamie Har, “Immigrant drivers feel ease, freedom with new licenses,” Associated Press/Reading Eagle, June 13, 2015
Jesse Paul, “Colorado’s immigrant driver’s program to resume scheduling Tuesday,” Denver Post, May 22, 2015
Jack Healy, “A Snarled Route to Driver’s Licenses for Immigrants in Colorado,” New York Times, June 2, 2015
Mackenzie Rigg, “DMV limits offices accepting applications for ‘drive-only’ licenses,” News-Times, April 7, 2015

April 23, 2015

Applications for California’s license for undocumented immigrants have exceeded DMV expectations. About half a million people had sought the licenses as of early April, and the DMV reports that 90.8% of applicants have had the documents necessary to obtain them. The program also may have led to a 30% increase in organ donor registrations.

Colorado’s licensing program will operate out of three DMV locations rather than one, after a legislative compromise on partial funding for this fiscal year. The long wait for appointments to apply for licenses is not expected to improve immediately.

Jeremy B. White, “Half a million California immigrants seek licenses, exceeding projections,” Sacramento Bee, April 3, 2015
Barbara Anderson, “Signups by undocumented immigrant drivers may explain 30% boost in organ donors,” Fresno Bee, March 11, 2015
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, “Are Undocumented New License Holders Driving Organ Donor Spike?”, NBC News, March 19, 2015
“Did AB60 Lead to a Spike in Organ Donators?”, New America Media, March 13, 2015
Peter Marcus, “Immigrant license program gets OK,” Durango Herald, March 18, 2015
Jesse Paul, “Colorado’s immigrant driver’s program to be offered at 3 offices in June,” Denver Post, April 14, 2015

February 19, 2015

Colorado has reduced service for undocumented immigrants seeking driver’s licenses to a single office in Denver due to the defunding of the program by Republican legislators (see January 27, below). The result is that new appointments to apply are unavailable until March 2016, and existing appointments are being rescheduled. With the increase of already long wait times, long drives to reach the issuing DMV, and three-year period to the license’s expiry, obtaining a license was described as “pretty much impossible now” by immigrant service provider Compañeros’s executive director Danny Quinlan.

In New Mexico, the House has passed a bill to rescind the state’s policy of licensing undocumented immigrants. Activists and immigrant supporters rallied at the capitol as the bill—one in a long series of attempts to repeal the law—was debated in committee. Alternate legislation, which would have moved New Mexico to the two-tiered licensing model developed since the passage of the REAL ID Act, was voted down. The repeal legislation moves on to the Democrat-controlled Senate.

And in California, wait times for appointments at the DMV have stretched to as long as three months, and waits for walk-in service can be hours. The DMV is responding by adding Saturday appointment times, making missed appointments available to others waiting for service, and urging potential visitors to go online for available transactions.

“Colorado Road and Community Safety Act (SB13-251) services to be reduced beginning Feb. 2,” Colorado Department of Revenue, January 27, 2015
Jack Healy and Julie Turkewitz, “Unauthorized Immigrants’ Access to Driver’s Licenses Is at Risk,” New York Times, February 11, 2015
Jesse Paul, “Colorado DMV to reduce immigrant driver’s license services Monday,” Denver Post, January 27, 2015
Deborah Baker, “House OKs bill to repeal driver’s license law,” Albuquerque Journal News, February 12, 2015
Russell Contreras, “Immigrant advocates rally amid New Mexico license repeal,” Associated Press/Washington Times, February 2, 2015
Margaret Wright, “Immigrant advocates rally against driver’s license repeal,” New Mexico Political Report, February 2, 2015 (photo gallery)
Steve Terrell, “Reasons for optimism for immigrant advocates,” Santa Fe New Mexican, February 14, 2015
“Some Motorists Wait Months For DMV Appointments After Immigrants Law Goes Into Effect,” CBSLA, January 29, 2015
“DMV Adds Appointment Opportunities, Reminds Customers to Go Online to Save Time,” California Department of Motor Vehicles, February 13, 2015
Roxana Kopetman/Staff, “California makes more appointments available to deal with crowds,” Orange County Register, February 16, 2015

January 27, 2015

In Colorado, Republicans in the Joint Budget Committee twice rejected a DMV request for $166,000 to continue to fund the immigrant driver’s license program. Without the funds, the DMV anticipates that it will stop offering driver’s licenses for immigrants at four of five locations, leaving only 31 appointments available a day, likely in Denver. Wait times for appointments had already grown as long as four years (see October 17, below) and some applicants have had to drive four hours to reach the nearest DMV office offering the new licenses. The committee also failed to authorize $1.6 million to open five new licensing offices in the 2015–2016 fiscal year. The funding would have come entirely from fees paid by the applicants.

In 2014, the number of Utah driving privilege cards issued—the cards for undocumented immigrants, good for only one year—was at its lowest since before 2008. This may reflect an increase in immigrants returning to their countries of origin during the recession, as well as the $55 fee, fingerprint and background check requirements, short time to expiry, and decrease in communication that applying will not lead to deportation.

Illinois’s Secretary of State Jesse White stated that 85,121 people received temporary visitor driver’s licenses since they became available to undocumented immigrants, and almost 190,000 have scheduled appointments to receive them. The state has the second largest population of eligible applicants after California.

In California, advocates and lawmakers are encouraging the Asian Pacific Islander (API) immigrant community to apply for the new driver’s licenses, noting that participation in previous immigration initiatives has been low among API groups. As of 2012, for example, only 20% of Asian immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program had applied.

John Frank and Jesse Paul, “Lawmakers delay debate on noncitizen driver’s license funding,” Denver Post, January 22, 2015
Megan Verlee, “Immigrant rights supporters protest limited funding for driver’s license program,” Colorado Public Radio, January 22, 2015
Peter Marcus, “Immigrant driver’s licenses blocked,” Durango Herald, January 23, 2015
Associated Press, “Number of driver cards issued to immigrants hits 6-year-low,” My San Antonio, January 19, 2015
Lee Davidson, “Utah hits 6-year low for immigrant driving privilege cards,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 12, 2015
Kurt Erickson, “Immigrant licenses top 85,000,” Southern Illinoisan, January 24, 2015
Summer Chiang, “‘The Happiest Day of My Life’ – Undocumented APIs Urged to Apply for Driver’s Licenses,” New America Media, January 23, 2015
Melody Gutierrez, “Lawmakers reach out to Asian immigrants on new driver’s licenses,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 13, 2015

January 17, 2015

California began issuing licenses regardless of immigration status on January 2. Since then, over 11,000 such licenses have been obtained, and undocumented immigrants have made more than 110,000 visits to DMV offices throughout California. The DMV has promised to release updated numbers on a weekly basis.

Passing rates on the written driver’s tests (combined for both AB 60 and other licenses) were low on the first day the new licenses were available, but higher than the passing rates for the standard licenses alone before AB 60 implementation. 36% of those taking the Spanish-language test and 54% of those taking the test in English passed on January 2, compared with 28% passing the test in Spanish and 49% in English beforehand.

Some applicants who had previous licenses under other names are being asked to meet with DMV investigators as part of the license application process. DMV officials say that these meetings are to prevent duplicate licenses and resolve outstanding traffic tickets only, unless a fraudulent license was used to commit a crime. Some immigrant advocates are suggesting that potential applicants with deportation orders and criminal records seek legal advice before applying for licenses.

Used car dealers and insurance salespeople—particularly those working in immigrant communities—are expecting increases in business as a result of the newly licensed drivers.

Connecticut also began implementation of its licensing policy this month. Roughly 28,000 undocumented immigrants in the state had scheduled licensing appointments as of December 31.

Lastly, Mexican consulates nationwide are now providing birth certificates rather than requiring Mexican citizens to get their documents in their birth states. The move will help immigrants needing documentation for driver’s license applications, as well as those eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Deferred Action for Parental Accountability programs.

“DMV Weekly AB 60 Implementation Statistics Update,” California Department of Motor Vehicles, January 13, 2015
Brittny Mejia, Cindy Carcamo, and Kate Linthicum, “Immigrants flock to DMV to seek driver’s licenses,” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2015
Associated Press, “Undocumented immigrants line up before dawn to get driver’s licenses in California,” Mashable, January 2, 2015
Aaron Mendelson, “28,000 seek driver’s licenses in first days of new immigrant law,” KPCC, January 5, 2015
“DMV Releases AB 60 Implementation Statistics,” California Department of Motor Vehicles, January 6, 2015
Cindy Carcamo, “DMV cites low pass rate on first day of new driver’s licenses,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2015
Josie Huang, “DMV releases pass/fail rates for those seeking Calif. immigrant driver’s licenses,” KPCC, January 6, 2015
Associated Press, “California DMV Will Check If Immigrants Had Previous Licenses, Outstanding Traffic Tickets,” CBS Sacramento, January 13, 2015
Amy Taxin/Associated Press, “Advocates warn immigrants about driver’s licenses,” Portland Press Herald, December 27, 2014
Leslie Berestein Rojas, “Used car dealers hope for a sales boost from newly licensed immigrant drivers,” KPCC, January 7, 2015
Don Jergler, “Immigration Reform, Driver’s Licenses Spell Opportunity for Latino Agents,” Insurance Journal, December 24, 2014
Henry Epp, “Undocumented Immigrants Can Apply For Conn. Driver’s Licenses Starting Friday,” New England Public Radio, December 31, 2014
Aaron Morrison, “Mexico Gives US Consulates Access To Immigrants’ Birth Certificates For Work Permits,” International Business Times, January 15, 2015
“Mexican consulates now providing birth certificates to immigrants,” KPCC, January 15, 2015

December 20, 2014

In California, reservations for DMV appointments spiked after the DMV began offering appointments for January 2015, when undocumented immigrants may begin applying for licenses. In the second half of November this year, 378,891 first-time applicants made appointments, compared with 175,911 over the same dates in 2013.

California will also begin a Spanish-language marketing campaign for its California Low-Cost Auto Insurance program, planned to coincide with the implementation of licenses for the undocumented.

And in a move that will affect licensing programs for immigrants nationwide, the National Immigration Law Center is suing the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for information about how immigration enforcement accesses driver’s license databases.

Jeremy B. White, “California immigrants soon can seek driver’s licenses,” Sacramento Bee, December 14, 2014 
Patrick McGreevy, “DMV prepares to issue driver’s licenses to people who are here illegally,” Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2014
Roxana Kopetman, “Next step for undocumented California drivers: Insurance,” The Orange County Register, December 7, 2014
Amy Taxin, “Lawsuit Over Immigrant License Data,” Associated Press/ABC News, December 17, 2014
Rebekah Kearn, “Info Demanded on DHS & ICE Record-Sharing,” Courthouse News Service, December 19, 2014

December 6, 2014

California and Connecticut—the last two states with pending dates to implement driver’s licenses for the undocumented—have begun offering appointments to apply for their driver’s licenses. The licenses will be available January 2, 2015. Over 5,000 appointments had been made in Connecticut so far. Republicans in the Connecticut House of Representatives have called for a public forum on the licensing policy.

Lolita Lopez, “Undocumented Immigrants One Step Closer to Driver’s Licenses,” NBC Los Angeles, December 2, 2014
Hugh McQuaid, “More than 5,000 undocumented Connecticut residents sign up for driver’s license test,” New Haven Register, December 2, 2014
Mary E. O’Leary, “New Haven church helping undocumented immigrants apply for driver’s licenses,” New Haven Register, December 1, 2014
Jenny Wilson, “Republicans Call For Public Forum On Undocumented Immigrants’ Driver’s Licenses,” Hartford Courant, December 1, 2014

November 19, 2014

In Washington, D.C., wait times for appointments to receive licenses stretched to as long as 10 months. DMV officials claim that applicants signing up for multiple appointments are responsible for much of the wait. According to DMV director Lucinda Babers, requiring a tax ID number from applicants during the reservation process would make it easier to identify and eliminate duplicate appointments and so make more appointments available. Immigrant service providers warn that such a requirement would be a significant barrier for applicants. As of November, the wait time has decreased to three months due in part to the DMV shortening appointments to 30 minutes rather than an hour.

Will Somer, “Traffic Jam: After New Driver’s License Law, Undocumented Immigrants Faced Long Wait,” Washington City Paper, November 19, 2014

November 18, 2014

In preparation for issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants in January, the California DMV has opened temporary offices, hired additional staff, lengthened the time that applicants may schedule appointments in advance from 45 to 90 days, and extended Saturday hours at some locations. The temporary offices in Lompoc, Stanton, Granada Hills, and San Jose, will all be open by January, when the DMV will start issuing the new licenses. All first-time license applicants, whether they can prove authorized status or not, may be served at the new locations.

Associated Press, “DMV Opens Temporary Outlets, Including in San Jose, to Meet Immigrant Demand,” NBC Bay Area, November 18, 2014
“DMV Extends Office Hours and Adds Appointments For First-Time Driver License Applicants,” California Department of Motor Vehicles, November 12, 2014
“DMV to Open New Offices, Hire More Staff for Undocumented Drivers,” KHTS, September 21, 2014
Kyle Harvey, “DMV in hiring spree to prep for immigrant driver’s licenses,” Bakersfield Now, October 22, 2014

November 7, 2014

In California, the DMV issued revised requirements for undocumented immigrants to receive a license. The new requirements expand the list of documents that can prove identity without additional documentation to include Mexican consular cards and Mexican passports issued after 2008, as well as changing the multiple-document options to prove identity.

“DMV Lists Documents Required For New Driver License Under AB 60,” California Department of Motor Vehicles, November 7, 2014
Josie Huang, “California DMV to offer immigrant drivers multiple ways to prove their identity,” KPCC, November 7, 2014
“AB 60 – Document Options for a California Driver’s License,” California Department of Motor Vehicles, November 5, 2014 (pdf)

November 4, 2014

After active campaigning and debate, Oregon’s driver’s card law was overturned by referendum, with 67% of voters against licensing. Had the referendum been approved, the state would have begun issuing licenses in December, becoming the ninth state (and tenth jurisdiction, including Washington, D.C.) to do so.

Dana Tims, “Driver card measure fails,” The Oregonian, November 4, 2014
Chelsea Gorrow, “Driver cards stir voter passions,” The Register-Guard, October 18, 2014

October 27, 2014

Illinois, which has been issuing licenses (“temporary visitor’s driver’s licenses”) to undocumented immigrants since November 2013, has seen complaints of lack of access. Applications for the new licenses are by appointment only, and only available at some DMV locations. Immigrant advocates and service providers say that scheduling appointments can be difficult and require long waits—particularly in the Chicago area—and that getting to appointments requires some applicants to travel long distances.

Amanda Vinicky, “Immigrant Rights Groups: Demand Oustrips Slots For Driver’s Licenses,” WUIS, October 27, 2014
“Activists Angry With Slow Pace Of Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants,” CBS Chicago, October 24, 2014

October 21, 2014

Early applicants for Colorado’s driver’s licenses for the undocumented were mistakenly sent licenses for those who can prove authorized status due to a vendor error. The DMV required the replacement of 524 misprinted licenses. More than 90 percent have since been returned.

Lisa Walton, “Colorado retrieves more than 90 percent of misprinted licenses from immigrants,” Colorado Springs Gazette, October 21, 2014
Kirk Mitchell, “Software glitch sends regular Colorado driver’s licenses to immigrants,” Denver Post, September 12, 2014

October 17, 2014

In Colorado, the launch of licensing in August has been accompanied by persistent complaints that implementation has been poorly managed and under-resourced. The online appointment system for the new licenses crashed shortly after it became available, and Spanish-language driver’s manuals were not released until two weeks after the licenses were being issued.

The Denver Post estimates some applicants will wait more than three years for the new licenses, available only by appointment at five DMV locations. Service providers and advocates have complained about the process, while state officials point to the legislative requirement that the policy pay for itself and an underestimate of the number of applicants as reasons for slow progress.

Jenny Deam, “Demand outpaces driver’s licenses for immigrants in Colorado,” Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2014
Hunter Schwarz, “More immigrants want to apply for driver’s licenses in Colorado than expected,” Washington Post, September 17, 2014
Jesse Paul, “Latino group to Hickenlooper: Fix driver’s program or lose our vote,” Denver Post, September 3, 2014
Jesse Paul, “Colorado driver’s manual translated as those here illegally are licensed,” Denver Post, August 18, 2014
Jesse Paul, “Few scheduled gain licenses under Colorado’s immigrant license law,” Denver Post, August 12, 2014
“Colorado didn’t prepare for rush on immigrant driver’s licenses,” Denver Post, July 26, 2014

September 30, 2014

In Chicago, the public library began accepting temporary visitor’s driver’s licenses (for authorized and unauthorized immigrants) as identification to get a library card. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said the policy was “part of being an immigrant-friendly city.”

Associated Press, “Chicago libraries accept immigrant licenses as ID,” Washington Times, September 30, 2014

September 22, 2014

Concerns have been raised in Maryland about the use of licensing information for immigration enforcement. Residents of an apartment complex, who according to family members had provided their information only to the Motor Vehicle Administration, have been detained by ICE agents, and advocacy group CASA of Maryland is informing its members that ICE may have access to license information.

“License to deport [Editorial],” Baltimore Sun, September 22, 2014
John Fritze, “Raid spurs fear of driver’s licenses among immigrants 2014,” Baltimore Sun, September 20, 2014

September 19, 2014

The design for California’s new license, which was originally rejected by the Department of Homeland Security as insufficiently distinguishable from existing licenses, has now been approved. The front of the license will state “federal limits apply.” (To see immigrant and original licenses side-by-side, go to the license gallery.)

The California legislature has also passed, and the governor has signed, two bills regarding the new licenses. AB 1660 extends the nondiscrimination and privacy provisions of the original legislation to include prohibitions against discriminating against license holders by employers or government agencies or disclosing information related to them. AB 852 imposes a fine for charging fees to fill out a driver’s license application for someone else, in an attempt to limit license-related scams.

Josie Huang and Bianca Ramirez, “California DMV to ‘move forward’ with immigrant driver’s licenses,” KPCC, September 19, 2014
Jeremy B. White, “Feds give green light to California immigrant licenses,” Sacramento Bee, September 19, 2014
Assembly Bill 1660
Assembly Bill 852

September 8, 2014

Illinois license applicant Felipe de Jesus Diosdado was arrested by immigration agents when he arrived for his appointment, unaware that he would be affected by a previous deportation order. Diosdado’s is the first publicized case of immigration enforcement as a result of applying for a license.

Perez, Jr., “License application leads to immigration bust,” Chicago Tribune, September, 8 2014

August 14, 2014

Illinois is taking steps to combat driver’s license scams. The Illinois Secretary of State has proposed a rule limiting the number of times the appointment system would accept a call from the same number to three a day.

 Associated Press, “Rule would limit immigrant driver’s license calls,” Daily Journal, August 14, 2014

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Photo credit to Tim Bell

About this project

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, a university research center with the mission to address the challenges and opportunities of demographic diversity in the 21st century global city, has produced these featured digital publications using the USC Media Curator, an online publishing platform designed to bring together innovative research from across the University of Southern California and beyond. This project curates research relevant for immigrant service providers on the topics of Access & Use of TechnologyAccess & Use of Financial ServicesNotario Fraud, and Driver's Licenses for the unauthorized.


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Latest News on Driver’s Licenses

As the 11 jurisdictions with two-tiered licensing models issue driver's licenses regardless of immigration status, with California and Connecticut implementing their policies most recently in Janua...more.