California provides drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants

On October 3, 2013 at Los Angeles City Hall, Governor Jerry Brown signed a landmark measure, California Assembly BIll AB 60, making California the tenth state to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.  This measure is set to go into effect by January 1, 2015, which will be the first time in over twenty years that undocumented persons could obtain driver’s licenses in the state of California.  In 1993, Governor Pete Wilson signed into law a measure requiring driver’s license applicants to provide a social security number and proof that their presence in the state is “authorized under federal law”, a task which is, by definition, impossible for illegal aliens.

There has been a lot of controversy over this bill and basically there are two sides of the argument.  The anti AB60 argument is largely fueled by those of the opinion that issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented persons will afford some undeserved legitimacy to those that are here in this state and in the country illegally, while the pro AB60 side maintains that regardless of one’s political beliefs surrounding immigration laws, it is imperative for us to view this bill as a public safety issue.  As a lawyer with over thirty years experience in personal injury cases, I strongly agree with this opinion and also believe that thoughtful implementation of this bill could help mitigate certain legal issues regarding recovery in accident claims against undocumented immigrants.

There are a couple of very important concepts that I would like to briefly discuss:

The first is that of the importance of verifiable identification.  Issuing licenses to immigrants that are not here legally could help minimize identification issues in general and perhaps most importantly when these persons are involved in auto accidents either as the responsible party, or even as a witness to the incident.  When police arrive at the scene of an auto accident, under the new legislation it will be much more likely that they will be able to properly identify the third party through his/her driver’s license.  When undocumented immigrants apply for licenses under AB 60, they will be required to provide the DMV with documentation legitimizing their identity and verifying their residency information.  In cases where illegal aliens are not licensed, it is very common that the person will present false identification, or have none at all making it very difficult to track the person for any follow up in terms of making a claim against them for injuries or damages sustained as a result of the accident.

 

Also there is the issue of insurance:  Studies have found that virtually 100% of people who are not licensed also do not carry liability insurance.  There are some cases where insurance companies will issue insurance to people who do not have driver’s licenses, but these companies are far and few between.  In my years of experience as a personal injury attorney I have found these statistics to be very true… people who do not have driver’s licenses, pretty much across the board, do not carry liability insurance.  As a result of this, in a state with perhaps the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the country, you have the real possibility of an illegal alien without a license being involved in an automobile accident.  Without liability insurance, it is typically impossible to make a successful claim against these individuals to cover your injuries, any medical bills you may have, or damages to your vehicle because there is just no pocket from which to obtain compensation .  In these cases, what the injured party must do is make a claim against their own insurance company under their uninsured motorist policy.  But if the injured party does carry uninsured motorist coverage, they are out of luck and the burden then falls on the state.

 

One suggestion I might have for legislators would be to require that illegal aliens applying for licenses under AB 60 show proof that they are carrying at least minimum liability operators insurance regardless of their vehicle owner status.  It is already law that anyone registering a vehicle in the state of CA carry liability insurance.  In a similar way, requiring AB 60 driver’s license applicants to carry insurance would protect the public by reducing the number of uninsured driver’s on our roads. Of course, this might be a problem on the side of the insurance companies being able to provide affordable plans.  Illegal immigrants who are first obtaining their licenses would carry risks that might make rates unattainable for these individuals who are often surviving just barely hand to mouth already. One way of mitigating this might be to set up a state fund that would subsidize these policies in order to ensure that they are within monetary reach for undocumented persons.

 

This is a very serious public safety issue.  We must look past those that insist on reducing this bill to a political discussion concerning immigration law.  With such important public safety issues at hand, I believe supporting AB 60 is a good idea for our society, really the only responsible option from a humanistic point of view.  It is extremely important to be able to identify persons involved in auto accidents and for all automobile operators to be insured, regardless of their legal status in our county.  Proper implementation of AB 60 will of course not completely eliminate the problem of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on our roads, but it is sure to be a good step in the right direction.