The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Tuesday rejected California’s proposed design for driver’s licenses to be issued to unauthorized immigrants, ruling that the state’s subtle identifying features must be made much more obvious.
The decision, if it stands, will force state officials to revisit how prominent to make the distinguishing marks on licenses — one of the most controversial provisions of an already divisive new law.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Watsonville Democrat who carried the driver’s license legislation last year, immediately called on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to overrule his department’s findings. Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has filed a similar plea.
In a letter to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, Homeland Security said a license must clearly state on the front that it cannot be used for official federal purposes. Licenses also must include a unique design or color to distinguish it from others issued to those drivers here legally.
State lawmakers had carefully constructed some broad design parameters for the DMV to follow as part of Alejo’s legislation allowing unauthorized immigrants to apply for licenses.
Specific wording for the back — not the front — of the license was to read the “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.”
To distinguish the document, the DMV was also ordered by the legislation to include the abbreviation “DP” to designate that it is for the driving privilege only. That two-letter designation was to be in front of the actual number assigned to individuals instead of the “DL” abbreviation for driver’s license that appears on the face of the document.
Neither approach is acceptable to Homeland Security.
In the rejection letter, Homeland Security said those requirements fall short of meeting standards imposed by the federal Real ID Act passed by Congress in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
State-issued licenses “must clearly state on the face in the machine readable zone that it may not be accepted for official federal purposes and use a unique design or color to alert federal agency personnel that it is not acceptable for official purposes” such as boarding planes, entering federal buildings or visiting nuclear power plants, Homeland Security said.
Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, said Homeland Security made the right call and he remains opposed to granting those here illegally the privilege of driving.
“This just goes to show how poorly the original legislation was written,” Jones said. “It wasn’t about good government, it was about ideology.”
Supporters say it’s a matter of public safety, practicality and a right that should be given to people working here and contributing to society. Opponents say the state should not reward people who broke the law to get here, contend it could lead to security breaches and that any such program should be part of a congressionally enacted nationwide policy, not done on a state-by-state basis