From zero to AB 60: California driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Immigration, Rights

This year, California became the largest state to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, impacting up to 1.4 million people according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. These licenses are usually called “AB 60 licenses” after the law that created them. A handful of other states and Washington, D.C., have similar rules.


Should an undocumented person in California apply for an AB 60 license? 

Some protection is better than none. Although it’s illegal, many undocumented individuals drive regularly without a driver’s license or insurance. Since those with an AB 60 license can purchase insurance to protect themselves and other drivers, it would be safer to drive with an AB 60 license and insurance than with no license at all.  Also, it’s against the law in California to discriminate against a person with an AB 60 license. In principle, this means police, for example, cannot treat a person differently because he has an AB 60 license.

But, be careful outside California. Other states are not required to abide by California’s anti-discrimination laws. In Arizona, for example, law enforcement may treat AB 60 license holders differently. Given varying state laws, it is riskier to use an AB 60 license outside California than it is to use one in state. Likewise, AB 60 licenses say, “Federal limits apply.” Holders will likely be unable to use the license while under the jurisdiction of a federal agency, such as airport security.

When not to apply. Anyone with a criminal record, or anyone who has been in contact with the immigration authorities or immigration court should be very careful. If that’s you, speak with an immigration lawyer before you walk into the DMV.

Three limitations to an AB 60 license:

1. It does not change your immigration status. California is a big state, but it’s just a state. Immigration law is controlled by the federal government; California does not have the authority to grant immigration status. So, if a person has an unlawful immigration status, an AB 60 license will not change that fact.

2. It does not give you the right to travel. Many undocumented individuals have families in other countries that they have not seen for years. An AB 60 license does not give someone the ability to return to the U.S. after leaving the country. An AB 60 license cannot be used for federal purposes, so it will not work to clear security at U.S. airports. This means it probably will not help undocumented residents travel within the U.S., at least by airplane.

3. It does not give you work authority. Similarly, an AB 60 license does not give an individual the right to be employed in California or anywhere else in the U.S. Using the I-9 form available here, all U.S. employers are required to check that employees are legally able to work in the U.S. An employer cannot use an AB 60 license to authenticate work status.

Bottom line: I would apply

If I were an undocumented person in California, I would apply for an AB 60 license. For someone planning to drive a car in California, an AB 60 license is better than no license at all. Get the license, get insurance, learn rules of the road and drive safely. And always remember to be very careful outside of California, since other states don’t follow California law.