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Bill Calls For California To Issue ID To Any Undocumented Immigrant

A blonde 56-year-old Latina woman wearing a red "I'm-migrant" shirt stands in front of a mural of two outspread hands, one holding a flower, the other a monarch butterfly.
Yanet Martínez, 56, is hoping a state ID can help her transition from street vending to office work.
(Josie Huang
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Nearly a decade ago, California became one of the first states to allow an undocumented immigrant to get a driver’s license, which doubles as a critical piece of ID.

The state says more than 1 million immigrants have since obtained the modified licenses, which let them do everything from opening a bank account and applying for housing and health care to signing up for a library card or ordering cell phone service.

But immigrant advocates say just as many, if not more immigrants, were left out of the process because they can’t or don’t drive — including some older adults, people with disabilities and a disproportionate number of women, who are less likely to have access to a car.

A bill before state lawmakers attempts to close the gap by proposing California issue ID cards available to any resident regardless of their legal status, whether they drive or not.

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Yanet Martinez, a pupusa vendor in Los Angeles, said she has not applied for a driver’s license because she can’t afford a car. Without an official ID, she said it’s been hard to participate in society since emigrating from El Salvador a dozen years ago.

“I believe we deserve to be able to be part of our communities, to contribute our full hearts to our communities, to be seen,” said Martinez, a 56-year-old mother of five.

Hoping to leave street vending and land office work, Martinez has been taking computer classes. But she said she ran into a roadblock this week when upon completion of a course, she was told she could not receive certification without government-issued ID.

“Just because I didn’t have my ID, I cannot improve my work, my life,” said Martinez, who has been speaking out about the bill as a volunteer with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

A black middle-aged man in a black blazer gives us a speech in front of.a sign that reads "Asian Americans Advancing Justice" and cutouts of workers. A long-haired man in a button-down shirt stands to his left.
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles) makes the case for giving a state-issued ID to undocumented immigrants.
(Josie Huang/LAist)

The bill has passed out of the state Assembly and is moving through the Senate. The DMV, which would issue the ID's, estimates that staffing costs would top $12.8 million between 2023 and 2028, which would likely be offset by application fees for the cards.

A coalition of immigrant rights groups including CHIRLA and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Southern California worked to drum up momentum for the bill at an event outside the Pasadena Job Center on Friday with politicians including its co-author Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles).

Jones-Sawyer had voted for passage of the driver’s license bill in 2013, which was criticized by opponents for rewarding people who were in the country illegally. The assemblymember said he is not seeing the same controversy surrounding the ID bill because fears of the driver’s licenses being used fraudulently have not come to pass.

“What we're finding out is people use it for the right reason — getting a job, putting a roof over your head, being able to cash your checks and be employed,” Jones-Sawyer said.

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Ben Tran, a policy strategist for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said immigrants may sometimes rely on passports from their countries of origin when ID is needed but doing so comes with the risk of being identified as undocumented. And sometimes passports are not enough.

Tran said an older Korean woman was seeking a restraining order against a neighbor who was harassing her but because she only had an expired Korean passport, the process was being delayed. Only through the intervention of AAAJ was the woman able to get law enforcement agencies to accept her passport as ID.

"Oftentimes, people are just having the help they need delayed or not getting the help they need at all," Tran said.

A middle-aged Latino in a dark suit and tie speaks outdoors in front of microphone, while two men stand to his left.
Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo mentioned his immigrant upbringing as he voiced support for the ID bill. To his side are Ben Tran of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Southern California and Jose Madera of the Pasadena Job Center, where the event was being hosted.
(Josie Huang/LAist)

Outside the immigrant rights community, other groups are also seeing the benefits of issuing a state ID to undocumented Californians.

Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, pointed out that property owners are barred from discriminating against people based on their immigration status but he said an undocumented applicant's ability to produce government-issued ID could only smooth the rental process.

"It's just another type of documentation that owners could hopefully rely upon to know that they have a real person in front of them who's leasing their property," Yukelson said.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.