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

California DMV trains 900 new hires to handle immigrant licensing surge

A line forms outside an LA office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles in this file photo.
A line forms outside an LA office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles in this file photo.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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The California Department of Motor Vehicles is training 900 freshly-hired employees to help deal with a surge in driver's licensing applications from immigrants without legal status. They're eligible to apply as part of AB 60 - a new law taking effect next month that makes driver's licenses available for California residents, regardless of their immigration status.

"We’ve never hired this many employees at one time, so this is definitely unprecedented," said DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez. "We need all hands on deck all across the state."

Gonzalez said there is huge interest in AB 60, as signaled by the nearly 380,000 appointments already scheduled for the first two weeks of 2015. That's more than double the roughly 176,000 appointments made for that same period in 2014. 

"We see everyday at our field offices and driver license processing centers (AB 60 applicants) lining up that want to come and make appointments," Gonzalez said. "They want information on how to study for the tests, so we’re handing them some handbooks, study guides."

The new DMV hires bring the number of agency employees to about 10,000 people. The agency has been budgeted enough funds to add up to 1,000 more people in 2015 if they're needed.

Gonzalez said the DMV has to train its workers on the differences in AB 60 applications and those of other drivers.  The fee is still the same — $33 — but AB 60 applicants, because of their lack of legal status, have special options to prove their identity.

Those options include providing ID from an approved list of documents that includes consular cards and passports from their native countries. If applicants don't have those primary documents, they will have to provide other ones such as birth certificates or school documents, and undergo a "secondary review" that includes a sit-down interview with investigators.

Staff "can look over the documents and feel confident you are who you're saying you are,"  Gonzalez said.

DMV employees are not the only busy ones in the run-up to the new law taking effect. The DMV, along California Attorney General Kamala Harris, is warning applicants about scam artists offering to fill out AB 60 applications for a fee. 

David Beltran, a spokesman for the AG's office, said it's gotten complaints from community organizations that work with immigrants.

"You have folks promising they'll speed up the application process or they'll complete it on their clients' behalf or that they can guarantee a license — all things that can't be done,"  Beltran said.