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Gov. Brown signs bill allowing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants

  • California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at Los Angeles City Hall before signing the AB 60 bill in Los Angeles Thursday, Oct 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

LOS ANGELES — California on Thursday joined the growing list of states that allow immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally to obtain driver's licenses — a measure supported not only by Latino activists but by police chiefs and insurance authorities.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in front of a cheering crowd of immigrants and their supporters, predicting other parts of the country will follow the example set by the nation's most populous state.

The licenses, which are expected to become available no later than January 2015, will carry a special designation on the front and a notice stating that the document is not official federal identification and cannot be used to prove eligibility for employment or public benefits.

"This is only the first step," Brown said outside City Hall in Los Angeles. "When a million people without their documents drive legally and with respect in the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice. No longer are undocumented people in the shadows."

Ten other states have enacted measures to give driver's licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, many of them in the past year, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

Some of those states issue only one kind of license. But laws in many states, including Oregon and Colorado, create distinctions between the license given to immigrants and the one issued to other drivers.

Some immigrant advocates initially raised concerns that a different license in California would contribute to racial profiling. The new law bans discrimination based on the license and states that the license cannot be used as a basis for arresting someone for being in the U.S. illegally.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he believes the marker is insignificant in relation to what the license will do for immigrants.

"Those distinctions mean little to hard-working people who simply want to drive to work or drive their kids to school or soccer practice without fear," he said.

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