I don’t know this guy even though he has the same name as me.

I don’t know this guy even though he has the same name as me. He’s been posting a series of “Ask a Lawyer” columns which I find surprisingly interesting. His writing is intelligent and accessible to someone like me with no legal training.

Originally shared by Chris Dolan

Legal Q&A – Insights From A San Francisco Lawyer

Juan Carlos from The Mission asks; “I am undocumented and live in San Francisco with my family.  I have a car which is registered and insured but I don’t have a license because of my immigration status.  Last year I lost my car when I got stopped at a “registration checkpoint” in Marin near the Canal.  Because I did not have a license my car was impounded for 30 days and I could not afford to pay the towing and storage so I lost my car.  I hear that the law is changing and that I can get a license even if I am not a citizen is this so?”


Juan Carlos, thank you for contacting me.  I am familiar with the snatch and grab that was occurring for a while throughout the Bay Area.  Several local enforcement agencies were conducting license checkpoints in areas with a high undocumented population.  As a result, as happened to you, many cars were impounded.  Under California law a driver in the state must register with the DMV within ten days of establishing residency in California.  If you are pulled over, deemed to be a resident of California, and you can not present a valid California driver’s license, the vehicle can be impounded.  Usually, most people would receive a “fix it ticket” meaning a citation that can be addressed by corrective cation such as obtaining a California driver’s license.  Unfortunately, as you well know, this has not been the case for everyone.


The catch 22 for undocumented Californians is that they could own, register and insure a car that they could not legally drive because, as undocumented people, they could not receive a California driver’s license.  Existing Law requires that an applicant for a California driver’s license submit proof that they are lawfully in the U.S.   Well, thankfully, this has now changed with the passage of Assembly Bill 60 introduced by Assembly Member Luis Alejo.   AB 60 has changed the California Vehicle Code to now permit the issuance of a California driver’s license to people who can not demonstrate that their presence in the United States is lawful if they meet all other qualifications for licensure and provide satisfactory proof to the Department of their identity and California residency.


The law was signed by Governor Brown on October 13, 2013 and goes into effect on January 1, 2015.  If the  DMV can draft and implement the necessary regulations and procedures prior to January 2015 the licenses could be issued sooner.


Once the process is instituted, an applicant can establish identity through presentation of one or more of the following documents: passport, valid consular identification card, or birth certificate.  California Residency can be established by one or more of the following: lease agreement, utility bill, school transcript, property deed, property tax bill, or other similar documentation.


The new class of license shall be distinct in appearance from the “original license” will have a recognizable feature such as “DP” on the front in the area preceding the license number where currently DL appears. The new license will also carry the following notice: “This card is not acceptable for official Federal purposes. This license is issued only as a license to drive a motor vehicle. It does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits.”


The law prohibits the use of any information gathered by the DMV, or the license itself, to consider an individual’s citizenship or immigration status as a basis for criminal investigation, arrest or detention.


To obtain this new form of license you, like every other driver, will have to  pass, the written and road test.  You can go online to the DMV website at www.dmv.ca.gov and find the study materials in a variety of languages to get started.


So, Juan Carlos, the good news is that California is moving forward to issue driving privileges to undocumented Californians.  The bad news is that day is not quite yet here.  Given the passage of the law, however, many local jurisdictions have revised their policies re impounding vehicles of undocumented/unlicensed drivers.