Capitol Alert
The latest on California politics and government
May 6, 2014

The federal government has rejected California’s initial design for new driver’s licenses to be offered to immigrants in the country illegally, saying the cards fall short of security safeguards.

Immigrant advocates embrace the licenses as a way to ensure immigrants can drive safely and without fear of reprisals. But they have expressed concern about what exactly the licenses will look like, fearing visually distinct licenses will amount to a scarlet letter branding the holder as being in the U.S. unlawfully.

That worry clashes with federal guidelines intended to guard against counterfeit or fraudulent documents. The REAL ID Act, passed in 2005, established minimum standards for drivers licenses and stipulated that licenses for residents without legal status must bear a distinctive marking. In Illinois, for example, immigrant drivers licenses carry a purple band.

California’s solution was to have the licenses include the marking “DP,” for “driver’s privilege,” rather than the standard “DL” signifying “driver’s license,” and language saying the card is ineligible for federal purposes. That did not pass muster.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggested more obvious markings, like a distinct color scheme or prominent language stating “in machine readable code that it is not acceptable for official Federal purposes.”

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