jerry brown
Gov. Jerry Brown / Photo by Flickr user Officer Phil (Creative Commons)
jerry brown
Gov. Jerry Brown / Photo by Flickr user Officer Phil (Creative Commons)

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law Sunday that allows young people who are undocumented to get California driver’s licenses. He vetoed a bill, however, that would have limited the ability of local jails to hold immigrants for federal deportation hearings.

The law Brown signed, AB129, by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), allows those who qualify for the Obama administration’s deferred action policy to be eligible to apply for driver’s licenses.

L.A. City Councilman José Huizar applauds the governor’s decision.

“The more we can do to bring undocumented immigrants ”” especially our young people ”” out of the shadows to become fully entrenched in American society through school, service to the country and work, the better off we’ll all be,” Huizar said. “Issuing driver’s licenses to these young people in the state of California is a step in the right direction, though comprehensive immigration reform is still needed.”

According to the Immigration Policy Center, there are currently more than 300,000 youth in California who are eligible for the federal program, which provides a two-year work, permit and reprieve from deportation for those brought to the United States as children.

“Gov. Brown believes the federal government should pursue comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” Brown spokesman Gil Duran said. “Pres. Obama has recognized the unique status of these students, and making them eligible to apply for driver’s licenses is an obvious next step.”

Federal officials have left it up to states to decide if they will grant licenses and other benefits to those getting work authorization.   Texas, Oregon and Virginia have all passed laws allowing for driver’s licenses, while Arizona and Nebraska have pledged to deny them.

A 1993 law in California prohibited undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses, but many drive anyway. In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck have argued that issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants would increase public safety because licensed drivers are required to pass driving tests and have auto insurance.

It wasn’t all celebrations, however, for immigrant advocates. One of the bills the governor vetoed on Sunday, the TRUST Act, would have limited the state’s cooperation with the Secure Communities program, which relies on local police to hold undocumented immigrants until immigration officials can pick them up.

The bill was backed by a number of prominent Democrats, including Villaraigosa, law enforcement leaders and immigrant rights advocates.

Advocates say current laws can ensnare undocumented immigrants who have committed only minor crimes or no crime   at all.

The governor wrote that while he supports immigration reform, the bill had “significant flaws” which he will work with the state legislature to fix.

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