SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - The DMV calls it a milestone and opponents say it's a frightening number.
We dug into see if the pathway to the privilege of driving has taken an unexpected turn.
"Many of these undocumented folks are the ones who clean the streets who mow lawns and who clean people's homes," said a lawmaker.
But just a few short years ago, driving to those jobs meant breaking the law. For the estimated 1.4 million unlicensed and uninsured undocumented immigrant drivers in California, that all changed in 2015 with Assembly Bill 60 (AB60).
"Gene Livingston on behalf of State Farm. We support public safety and urge your support for this bill," he said.
One by one, they lined up, urging the state to let undocumented immigrants living in California legally obtain drivers licenses, despite some strong opposition.
"Licensing many of these individuals will not make the roads safer," said Don Rosenberg, whose son was killed in a traffic crash by an unlicensed immigrant.
AB60 passed, and they started to pack into their local DMV offices.
In the first year, a little more than 600,000 undocumented immigrant drivers licenses would be handed out in the state. The stipulations that applied back then are still in place.
"They have to prove that they are who they are, their identity, and they have to prove that they are a resident of California," said Jaime Garza, media relations and marketing specialist in the Office of Public Affairs at the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The DMV is calling it a major milestone as it recently handed out its one millionth drivers license to an undocumented immigrant. But has the law really made our roads safer?
Supporters have long said making drivers who are in this country illegally, pass a driving test every five years and carry proof of insurance would give them less motivation to run from the scene of a traffic accident. A recent Stanford study backs that up. It found hit-and-run accidents have dropped by 7 percent in California since the law went into effect, and that California drivers have saved an estimated $3.5 million in out-of-pocket expenses because of the insurance requirement.
But the road for some undocumented drivers has taken a turn. Fewer people are applying. Since the 605,000 licenses were handed out that first year, there's been a significant drop and the DMV is now averaging about 10,000 a month.
Here's how many licenses were handed out.
- 2016: 120,000
- 2017: 120,000
- 2018: 50,000
And fears expressed when the law first passed have re-emerged.
"People would be afraid to apply for the license, thinking it would somehow fall into the hands of the immigration department," said Teresa Rodriguez, an undocumented immigrant.
"California's laws provide a safe harbor for some of the most vicious and violent offenders on earth," said President Trump.
Many say President Trump's hardline stance on illegal immigration and heat from ICE raids has them thinking twice before signing up or renewing that license, even though the DMV says the licenses "cannot be used against the license holder to determine their immigration status or citizenship, or detain them in any way for reasons other than valid traffic violations."
The fear is real. In fact, the three local undocumented immigrants who agreed to talk with us about what the driver's license law has meant for them all backed out. They're afraid they may be targeted for deportation.
There are restrictions on these licenses. They contain the words "federal limits apply" and "does not" establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits.
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