Some 605,000 undocumented immigrants who live in California were granted driver's licenses in 2015, the first year they have been able to enjoy that benefit, officials said Monday.
The law known as AB60 took effect on January 2, 2015. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) expects a total of about 1.4 million people will get their license under the law by late 2017.
Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed the law in October 2013 to give a legal document to the 2.5 million undocumented immigrants in California alone -- most from Latin America and particularly neighboring Mexico.
That renewed interest in another California law, the "New Motor Voter Act," which was passed in October 2015. The combination of these two acts, one allowing undocumented people to obtain driver's licenses, the other automatically registering citizens to vote when obtaining a driver's license, sparked fears (which have been periodically resurrected for more than a decade) that California was allowing undocumented people to vote.
Judge Andrew Napolitano gave a voice to these fears during an appearance on "Fox And Friends":
Judge Andrew Napolitano says that “if you are an illegal alien in California, get a driver’s license, register to vote, you can vote in local, state, and federal elections in California and those votes count.”
On “Fox & Friends” Tuesday, host Steve Doocy explained, “The state of California has passed legislation that will automatically register eligible voters when they obtain or renew a driver’s license. Governor Jerry Brown says it’s a way to increase voter turnout, but critics warn the measure could add millions of illegal people to the rolls because the state allows undocumented aliens to get driver’s licenses.”
But neither Assembly Bill 60 nor the New Motor Voter Act provide undocumented immigrants with any additional federal benefits:
California officials believe the program -- which does not give license holders any US federal benefits -- does make roads in the most populous US state safer, several state sources said.
It does not allow license holders, for example, the right to fly on airplanes inside the United States, nor does it give anyone legal residency status, the right to work or to seek a US passport.
While critics of the New Motor Voter Act fear that undocumented people may slip through the loopholes and get registered to vote, it's false to say that California has made it legal for undocumented people to vote. In fact, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said that the new law is actually more secure:
The way automatic registration works is relatively simple: Eligible citizens are registered to vote when they show up at a Department of Motor Vehicles office to obtain a driver's license or state ID. The DMV gives the eligible voter a chance to opt out if they prefer not to register. If the person does not opt out, the DMV electronically transfers their voter registration information to the Secretary of State's office, rather than making election officials enter data by hand from paper registration forms...
"... Automated voter registration is actually a more secure way of doing things," California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told HuffPost in September. Potential voters "have to demonstrate proof of age, the vast majority of time people are showing a birth certificate or a passport, which also reflects citizenship. That's arguably more secure than someone checking a box under penalty of perjury," Padilla said.
While it's true that undocumented people in California can obtain a driver's license, the state has not passed any laws which also gives them the right to vote. The New Motor Voter Act was passed in an effort to improve voter turnout, and while this law does automatically register citizens to vote when obtaining or renewing a driver's license, this only applies to citizens who are already eligible to vote.