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Filipinos joining applicants for Calif. driver’s license for undocumented

/ 07:52 AM January 27, 2015
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Lines of immigrants applying for special driver’s license now a common sight in California DMV branches.

SAN MATEO, California — No more pedaling the bicycle or ridesharing with relatives and friends to work or to bring the children to school. This month, the Department of Motor Vehicles started issuing special licenses to people who cannot prove their legal presence in the country.

So-called irregular Filipino immigrants are among the people joining the long lines of applicants for a California driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Roughly, one in four Filipinos are undocumented in the US, said Joanna Concepcion, of the Filipino Migrant Center, “and it’s important that Filipinos are well-informed about how this new law could benefit them. “

Since January 1, when AB60 — the Safe and Responsible Driver Act — became law, thousands of undocumented immigrants have applied for driver’s licenses. California joins nine other states to grant undocumented immigrants access to licenses but with applicable limitations.

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Immigrant advocates say some applicants who previously held licenses under Social Security numbers that were not their own have been told they will need to meet with a DMV investigator.

Undocumented immigrants who fraudulently obtained a California driver’s licenses before it was legal won’t be able to a new car until state authorities review their driving records.

The DMV expects to field 1.4 million applications in the fist three years of the program aimed at boosting road safety and making immigrants’ lives easier.

According to Seth Ronquillo, of Asian American Advancing Justice, more than 400,00 Asian American undocumented could be eligible for the program.

“You’re always afraid to be stopped by police, “ Ronquillo said, “they can take you car. “Some had to ride bikes to work or share a ride with someone,” he added.

Application requirements

According to the DMV, applicants must submit proof of identity and state residency and pass a written test to get a driving permit.

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Those who don’t possess foreign government-issued identification on a list of approved documents can be interviewed by a DMV investigator to see if they qualify.

Immigrants must come back at a later date and pass a road test to get a license, which will be marked with the words, “Federal Limits Apply.”

Jessica Gonzalez, a DMV spokesman, was quoted as saying that, “those who have licenses from other states are not required to take a road test again. “

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials have said the program will improve road safety because more drivers will be tested and insured.

A DMV study of 23 years of crash data found unlicensed drivers were more likely to cause a fatal collision.

Undocumented Filipinos apply

Protected by the TRUST Act that took effect on January 1, enabling the undocumented to cooperate with police without fear of deportation, some undocumented Filipino immigrants, are now coming out into the open to apply for driver’s licenses in various DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) offices.

Danilo (not his real name), a professional in the Philippines working now as caregiver, and who has been in the Bay Area for more than seven years, told INQUIRER.NET he was eager to obtain a driver’s license because he needs it “for peace of mind.”

“My work includes driving anywhere for my client — from doctors to hospitals, to stores and pharmacies and more importantly, to car shows not only in California but other states, “ Danilo said.

When he and his paraplegic client (name withheld) goes out of state to do bids for a car show, Danilo said he fears that he might get pulled over by police who would impound his boss’ vehicle. Worse, he might go to jail for lack of a document.

“I was just lucky to have gone this far, but when we went to Arizona the other week for a huge national car show, I was worried that there would be check points along the way because we had to pass through Las Vegas and Los Angeles, for a total trip of 2,500 miles back and forth, “ he said.

Danilo is one among thousands of undocumented immigrants who are hiding in the shadows but would like to become legitimate. “ I paid my taxes using my ITIN (Income Tax Identification Number), too, each year. “

He is ready. “I am going to the DMV and bring my proofs of identity and residence along with a friend who will accompany me because I also borrowed his vehicle that is covered with insurance.”

Danilo will take his chances in obtaining the important document “so that I could drive safely without fear and also get a sense of legitimacy.”

Similarly, Hermie, another undocumented Filipino construction worker, said that for the past two years he spent $7,000 to retrieve his impounded car. Under existing laws, vehicles are impounded by police if the driver cannot show proof of license and insurance coverage.

Danilo and Hermie are among the few Filipinos who will fall in line at the DMV for a driver’s license. Other Filipinos are still hesitant.

Supporters and opponents

“It’s something that you’re lucky to have, something undocumented shouldn’t be allowed to have that privilege,” ABC News quoted one opponent of the program. “It’s not something that they should get (because) it legitimizes illegal immigration in a way they give a government document to somebody who’s not legally in the US.”

However, supporters of the law contend it’s about “safety on the roads because folks have to take the tests.”

Police are backing this law for road safety considerations; many hit and run cases involve unlicensed drivers fleeing the scene of an accident.

However, the driver’s license being issued to qualified undocumented immigrants is not for federal use, neither could it be used to board airplanes or get employment. The DMV card issued for this purpose is designed for use only in the state.

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TAGS: AB60 Safe and Responsible Driver Act, California Department of Motor Vehicles, civil rights, driver’s license for undocumented immigrants, Filipino Migrant Center, immigrant rights, immigration US, ITIN (Income Tax Identification Number)
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