Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Driver's licenses too costly for immigrants under proposed regs, advocates say

Immigrants without legal status attend a hearing on getting driver's licenses at the Bell Community Center.
Immigrants without legal status attend a hearing on getting driver's licenses at the Bell Community Center.
Josie Huang/KPCC

Next week, when state officials hold hearings on the soon-to-be-launched driver's license program for immigrants here illegally, they'll get an earful on how expensive applying for the license will be.

Immigrant rights groups who've reviewed the state's proposed regulations predict many of the projected 1.5-million applicants will have trouble paying for the documents required to prove identity. They're urging the California Department of Motor Vehicles to broaden the range of documents it will accept.

RELATED: California DMV releases proposed regulations for immigrant driver's licenses

As one of the options for showing identity, the DMV is asking applicants to produce both a consular ID card and a foreign passport.  But a coalition of groups representing immigrants called Drive California is asking the DMV to require just one of them.

"Acquiring both can be prohibitively expensive and actually impossible for some," said Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of one of the coalition's member organizations, the California Immigrant Policy Center.

Shamasunder said that getting a Mexican passport and a consular ID could cost up to $128  a person. Some consulates like the Phillippines', don't even offer consular ID's, she said.

The policy center is part of a larger coalition known as Drive California, which is trying to protect immigrants' interests as the new driver's license program is assembled. Luis Nolasco — who represents immigrants from Riverside and San Bernardino counties as part of Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California — said aside from the cost of getting a passport and consular card, traveling to the Mexican consulate in San Bernardino is an obstacle because "half the people don't have reliable transportation." 

DMV spokesman Armando Botello noted that there are other ways for applicants to show their identity like coming up with a foreign birth certificate or a voter ID from their home country — like Mexico's federal electoral card.

If the applicant can't come up with any of the required documents, Botello said there is yet another option: an interview with a DMV investigator, who by using items like a marriage license or income tax return, would try to verify identity.

But Botello added the DMV is taking all concerns and recommendations seriously and that the required list of "documents can change in the next few weeks," as the agency plans to finalize its regulations by late summer.

Next week's hearings will take place in Oakland and Los Angeles. The L.A. hearing will start at 10 a.m. at the Carmel Room of the Junipero Serra Building, 320 W. Fourth Street.