As the latest session of the California state assembly came to a close Thursday night, legislators approved a bill, in a bipartisan 55–19 vote, to grant illegal immigrants the right to receive driver’s licenses.
“This is a moment, members, that years from now you’re going to look back on,” Democratic assemblyman Luis Alejo said on the occasion of the bill’s passing. Democratic state senator Kevin de León noted that ten other states already allow illegal immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, saying, “we are actually quite behind.”
This type of bill had been blocked multiple times before – former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger repealed it after former governor Gray Davis’s recall and went on to veto it several more times – it came to the floor again early on Thursday, the last day of the 2013 legislative session, and was voted on later that day.
The law stipulates that illegal immigrants’ licenses should have a feature denoting their immigration status, but also includes provisions to guard against discrimination of such people, including when they’re applying for housing and employment.
By law, employers cannot process payroll checks for employees who lack a valid Social Security number. Yet the law’s anti-discrimination measures make it illegal for an employer to refuse to hire an illegal immigrant on the basis of his having an ID denoting illegal status, even though it would reasonably follow that such a person has a fake Social Security number or none at all. “As an employer, if they produce this driver’s license, what am I supposed to do?” asked Republican assemblyman Curt Hagman.
Once signed by Governor Jerry Brown, who’s endorsed the bill, it will take effect on January 1, 2015.