Capitol Alert

More than 50,000 undocumented California immigrants get driver’s licenses

Immigrants line up at a California Department of Motor Vehicles office to register for drivers licenses in Stanton, Calif., Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
Immigrants line up at a California Department of Motor Vehicles office to register for drivers licenses in Stanton, Calif., Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. AP

One month after California began offering driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the state illegally, tens of thousands have received licenses and seven times as many took driving tests.

Years of effort by immigrant advocates culminated on Jan. 2, when immigrants became eligible to begin driving legally under a 2013 law. The California Department of Motor Vehicles estimated 1.4 million people would apply over the course of three years, though questions about how many would step forward persisted.

Now the January numbers are in, and they show a surge of applicants: Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 30, 57,000 licenses were issued to undocumented immigrants; 366,000 people visited DMV offices; and DMV officials administered 415,000 written or road tests. There were more tests than visits because some people failed and had to retake tests.

Nearly a thousand licenses went out on the first day they were available, according to previously released DMV statistics, a day that saw hectic scenes of hope and anxiety play out across the state. California budgeted millions of dollars to help the DMV hire staff and open new offices needed to handle the influx.

So did those numbers exceed DMV expectations? Did they fall short? It’s hard to say, a spokesman said, given that the agency is in new territory.

“We don’t really have anything to compare it to,” DMV spokesman Jaime Garza said. “We’re just monitoring it as things come in.”

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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