Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in California will be eligible for driver's licenses under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown late Sunday.
The measure, Assembly Bill 2189, was among the final bills acted upon as Brown decided the fate of 108 proposals on the last day for him to sign or veto measures passed by the Legislature this year.
AB 2189 affects an estimated 400,000 undocumented immigrants expected to meet the requirements of President Barack Obama's new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The bill was the latest proposal in a decade-long campaign by Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo to give undocumented immigrants the right to drive legally in California.
Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, contended that issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants would enhance public safety by ensuring that they are trained and tested, and making it more likely that they will buy insurance.
Opponents argued that California should be extremely careful in how it doles out driver's licenses because they are used as identification for numerous other public purposes - entering an airline terminal, for example.
Officials of the California Department of Motor Vehicles previously have said that it appears Deferred Action participants will be eligible for driver's licenses. California requires specific documents to be produced to obtain one, however, and those expected to be distributed by the federal program are not on the state's list.
AB 2189 would specify that Deferred Action documents meet the DMV requirement to prove lawful presence in the United States.
It would apply to fewer than one of every four undocumented immigrants in California, according to Cedillo.
The bill extends driver's license eligibility to a select group of undocumented immigrants who already will have the right, under Deferred Action, to live and work in the United States for two years without fear of deportation.
Deferred Action is meant for longtime California residents who came to the United States as undocumented immigrants when they were young and generally have lived productive lives since then. It applies to undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31 who came to the United States before age 16 and have lived in this country continuously for the past five years.
Participants must be in school, have graduated from high school or obtained an equivalency certificate, or have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military. They cannot have committed a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors.