SACRAMENTO (AP) — Democratic lawmakers approved on Thursday tweaks to a program Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last year to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, after businesses and advocates raised concerns.
The Assembly on Thursday voted 47-to-15 on a party-line vote to clarify provisions of AB60. They come as the Department of Motor Vehicles plans to start issuing licenses in January 2015, with almost 1.5 million immigrants qualifying.
The original law says immigrants must sign an affidavit saying they cannot prove their presence in the U.S. is authorized. AB1620 by Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Watsonville says applications for the licenses are confidential and won’t be subject to the state’s open-records laws.
The original law prohibits California businesses from discriminating against workers who have special licenses by assuming the licenses prove the immigrants are here illegally. Such provisions are included because of immigrants’ fears that licenses could be used against them, said Josh Stehlik, a workers’ rights attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. People born in the U.S. but who don’t have their birth certificates, for example, may also apply for AB60 licenses.
The licenses cannot be used as proof of work authorization, but they can be used to prove identity.
Employer groups want to make sure businesses that follow federal law by rejecting applicants who can’t prove their permission to work are not punished if the applicants also happened to show their licenses.
The new bill makes clear that businesses are not breaking state law if they do not hire workers to comply with federal immigration mandates.
“It put employers in between a rock and a hard place if they reject an applicant because they showed this license,” said Jason Resnick, vice president and general counsel of the Western Growers Association.
Many businesses employing immigrants in the country illegally either don’t ask for documents or are presented with false documents.
At least 10 other states have similar driver’s license programs.
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