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Illegal Immigrants Can Now Get a Driver’s License

People in the western state of California who are in the United States illegally can now request a driver’s license. More than a million people are expected to seek the special license. California is not the first American state with such a law, but it has the largest number of illegal immigrants.

Many people began to request licenses shortly after the new state law went into effect. Many people stood in long lines. Among them was Christian Alvarado.

“It is so exciting. For a long time (I have been) waiting for the license.”

Mr. Alvarado entered the United States from El Salvador eight years ago without permission from the U.S. government. Some call such people “illegal immigrants.” Others call them “undocumented immigrants.”

Mr. Alvarado works as a gardener. This is the first time he has been able to seek a driver’s license in the U.S. He must prove his identity and show that he lives in California to start the process. He must also take an eye test to show he can see well, and a written test on driving rules. He must also take a driving test to show he can operate a motor vehicle. If he is successful, he will get a driver’s license. Mr. Alvarado says he will then be able to drive without fear.

“You are always afraid about the police. (They) can stop you and take your car and you have to pay a lot of money to get back the car.”

Police once caught Mr. Alvarado driving without a license. He says he had to pay a fine of $800.

Many immigrants in California drove without a license before the new law took effect. Jaime Rodriguez is one of them. He says he had to drive because of his job, which supports his family.

“You live with fear sometimes, and you need to do it (drive). You need to live.”

Yidara Pisano is employed as a caregiver of children. She says with a license she can drive without fear of having her car taken away from her.

The law went into effect January 1. Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have requested licenses since then. But some are worried that their personal information will be used to find them and deport them.

Armando Botello is a spokesman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV. He says people should not be afraid. He says the California DMV generally does not share such information. He says it will do so only if officials request information about someone being investigated for their possible role in a serious crime.

The new license is the same as licenses given to citizens except that it has the words “Federal Limits Apply.” That means the license cannot be used to travel on an airplane or enter a federal building. Ana Garcia works at the Central American Resource Center. She says some illegal immigrants fear those words will be used to abuse them.

“There’s just also another fear that, you know, they’re going to be treated differently, they’re going to be discriminated against or that, you know, or just a regular police officer can, you know, see that they’re undocumented and then call immigration themselves.”

Civil rights groups say police and others are not permitted to act against people who have the special license.

Dan Schnur is a political scientist at the University of Southern California. He told VOA that the main argument against the new law is that it rewards illegal behavior.

But Professor Schnur says public opinion in California has changed. He says young people have different feelings about undocumented immigrants than older Americans. He says young, white Americans generally support immigration reform, including giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

“…simply because they grew up in a much different type of society, a much more multicultural society, than their parents or their grandparents did.”

Professor Schnur says he believes the changes in beliefs about illegal immigrants that have taken place in California will spread throughout the United States.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reported this story from Los Angeles. Christopher Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver edited the story.


Words in this Story

license n. an official document or card that gives permission to do, use or have something

gardener n. a person who works in and designs and creates large gardens, areas of ground where plants (such as flowers or vegetables) are grown

deport v. to force (a person who is not a citizen) to leave a country

regular adj. normal or usual

reward v. to give money or another kind of payment to (someone or something) for something good that has been done

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