California is home to more undocumented immigrants than any other state, over 3 million, so any policy shift it makes is bound to catch attention.
NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration, noticed a trend with driver’s licenses in the Golden State and posted a meme with this message on its Facebook page.
"More than half of all drivers' licenses issued in California this year have gone to illegal aliens," the meme says.
The group is on solid ground with its numbers, although it omits why this has happened.
According to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, about 397,000 undocumented immigrants received a driver’s license since January.
"This figure represents more than half of the total 759,000 original driver licenses that have distributed during the first half of 2015," the department said in a press release.
Behind these numbers is a 2013 law called the Safe and Responsible Driver Act. The measure reversed a 20-year-old law that blocked people without legal status from applying for a license. A large coalition of immigrant advocacy organizations argued that in the state that epitomizes American car culture, that ban made it difficult for people to get to work, drive their kids to school and run simple errands. The result, the advocates argued, was thousands of people on the road without licenses and without any way to make sure they knew how to drive.
Under AB 60, all that would be needed to get a license was proof of residency and the ability to pass a driver’s test, both written and on-the-road.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill in October 2013. It took effect January 2015.
A wave bigger than expected
State officials predicted that about 500,000 people would apply in the first six months, with about another million people after three years. By April 2015, they had already hit the 500,000 mark.
"The interest in this program is far greater than anyone anticipated," said DMV director Jean Shiomoto in a press release.
Shiomoto might have been surprised, but the state had done a lot to make this happen.
In January 2014, Brown proposed spending $65 million to open five temporary offices and hire as many as 1,000 additional staffers to handle an application surge. He largely got what he wanted. The department opened four new offices and hired 900 people.
In November 2014, the Department of Motor Vehicles announced it would keep longer office hours and stay open on Saturdays.
"DMV is committed to successfully implementing this new law to increase safety on California roads by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel," Shiomoto said.
The group NumbersUSA said that this year, more than half of all drivers' licenses issued in California went to undocumented immigrants. By the state’s own tally, that is correct. What the group doesn’t mention is that this is the result of a substantial state effort. First, lawmakers made it possible for over a million unauthorized residents to apply for a license, and then the state spent millions of dollars to speed the application process.
The statement had the right numbers but needs additional information. We rate the claim Mostly True.