Recently, the ACLU of Southern California participated in an event in Kern County on AB 60, California's new Safe and Responsible Driver Act. The act, which went into effect January 1, 2015, permits any eligible Californian to obtain a driver license, regardless of immigration status.
The excitement in the room over the AB 60 license and its importance to the community was palpable. The event, organized by the State Bar of California and hosted by Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, was standing room only. Over 350 people were in attendance.
AB 60 is a tremendous victory for immigrants and advocates who have fought for years to get it passed. But there is still work to be done.
A statewide coalition called Drive California, made up of over 35 immigrants' rights, faith-based, service and civil rights organizations, including the ACLU of California, is working hard to ensure successful implementation of AB 60 and drivers' licenses for all. This includes providing Californians the information they need and want regarding the license.
One question that we repeatedly hear from the community is whether they should apply for the license and whether there is any risk they could be identified for deportation.
The benefits to the license are clear. The hardships that arise from being an unlicensed driver are undeniable and can even lead to arrest, which itself can land a person in deportation proceedings.
The license has tangible benefits for many immigrants' daily lives.
But there are also risks for certain individuals whom Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") considers enforcement priorities. The ACLU and the Drive California Coalition are working to ensure that the community is aware of these risks so that they can make a personal and informed decision whether to apply.
As we said in Kern County, if ICE is looking for a particular individual, then ICE can submit a request to DMV to get that person's address and photo. We explained that ICE may be looking for someone if they fall under one of the Obama Administration's new immigration enforcement priorities. These priorities include people with a prior criminal history, such as a felony, a DUI, or three or more misdemeanor convictions.
This information sharing between ICE and DMV is not unique to AB 60 applicants. But as the majority of counties across California have stopped honoring immigration detainers, ICE is increasingly turning to other ways to locate people for immigration enforcement.
The ACLU and the Drive California Coalition will continue to urge the DMV to restrict the federal government's access to its database. No one should be afraid that he or she may be deported simply for wanting to drive legally in California.
Katie Traverso is Stanford Law fellow at the ACLU of Southern California. Follow ACLU_SoCal.