JAV among thousands of undocumented immigrants who acquire driver’s licenses in California

JAV’s proof of passing the California Driving test.  A Facebook photo.

JAV’s proof of passing the California Driving test. A Facebook photo.

By Cecile Caguingin Ochoa

“Sitting in my car, which my cousin Gladys and her husband Gerry has generously loaned me. I just passed my driver’s test,” joyfully proclaimed Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas in a blog after AB 60 was implemented January 2.

AB 60 gives undocumented immigrants the right to have a California driver’s license starting January 2, 2015. This license is not valid to be used for employment, voting or receiving public benefit.

Department of Motor Vehicles representative Lizette Mata clarified that undocumented drivers must look at www.DMV.ca.gov for the requirements and fill up appointment reservation form in order to visit the DMV and file the request. Undocumented immigrants looking to apply for a California driver’s license have already reserved more than 170,000 DMV appointments online to be able to start the process.

About 46,200 undocumented immigrants have applied for the driver’s license since AB 60 took effect on Friday.

Jose Vargas or JAV has become a national figure Filipino American for his bold action in 2012 in disclosing his undocumented status even as he had worked for prestigious news organizations such as the Washington Post, among others. He founded “Define American” in April 2011 and has since lobbied for immigration reforms including writing and producing the documentary “Documented”. In November 2013, theFilAmLA was one of the first news organizations that broke the news that CNN Films has acquired the U.S. broadcast rights to the feature-length film about JAV’s journey to America as a 12-year old without legal papers and maturing to an immigration reform activist.

After obtaining his driver’s license on Monday January 5 from the Santa Clara DMV office, Jose wrote on Facebook: “One of the happiest days of my life: a real, legit, government-issued California-approved driver’s license, which I did not get by lying, or keeping a secret, or living in fear. I got this license because I am part of this community- as are my fellow undocumented Americans here in California and across the country. We are parts of your communities. This is our home, this is where we pay taxes, this is where we work, where many of us have created businesses.

We’ve always known – I’ve always known – that we are more than pieces of papers. We are human beings. But I cannot overstate what this pieces of government-issued paper- I’ll get the ID in the main in the next two weeks- means to me, or to my family and friends”.

His post resulted in several hundred “likes,” including those with similar stories as undocumented Americans. ”It’s a long time coming! Like any other privileges, it is not one given in a silver platter – you have to fight for it. Life indeed is a longtime struggle.” Another blogger was ecstatic: “It feels like I belong….Like I’m being recognized that I exist in this country. And I no longer have to feel anxiety and fear whenever a cop car is behind me! Congrats Jose”.

There were his usual “haters.” Wrote one: “Use it to drive back where you belong.” He described himself as a “born and bred USA American vet”…

Two other Filipinos have come out their “shell” to speak on behalf of hardworking Americans lacking appropriate immigration status.

Maddie Villanueva, a mother of two, meets with the press in response to the approval of AB 60.

Maddie Villanueva, a mother of two, meets with the press in response to the approval of AB 60.

Maddie Villanueva met with Asian American Pacific press members last month 18 at a conference sponsored by Advancing Justice-LA to declare that she’s been “driving for 11 years since I came to this country in 2002”. She said no one knew that she has been driving without a California license.

“And like Jose Antonio Vargas I have also been living with deception because I was pretending I had the legal right to drive in California when in fact I don’t. I was putting my own life and the lives of my two precious daughters to the worst risk that no one could imagine,” Villanueva told the press. One of her daughters is now a UC Berkeley student. As her kids were growing up, they would often ask her why they take to street alleys instead of the regular avenues. “I couldn’t tell them it’s out of fear of being stopped by the police and being asked for a driver’s license.”

In an interview with reporters, Villanueva said she and her children came to the US with an H-4 visa. An H-4 visa is a visa issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of temporary workers with H1B visa, a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical.

A young Filipino American, Anthony Ng came to the United States as a tourist when he was 12 to join his parents and siblings to find better opportunities in this country. Before qualifying for protection under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Anthony lived a secret life as an “undocumented American” for 13 years, always fearful of being deported. Anthony told theFILAMLA that he found out about his status when his mother was unable to produce his social security card for a scholarship travel to visit the White House.

Some Filipino immigrants find themselves torn on this issue. One professional fundraiser for non-profits who requested anonymity said she still questions the fairness of these immigration reforms. “It took years for my family and I to obtain our legal immigration status including going back to the Philippines to wait for our immigration papers to come through for 15 years,” she told TheFilAMLA. Some readers of this e-zine has maintained polite agreement but refusing to comment.

In a press statement California State Senator Ricardo Lara., said “Allowing driver’s licenses for all Californians results in families being able to drive to work to contribute to our state’s economy, parents being able to take their kids to school and safer streets.”

Lara highlighted that AB60 helps California in leading the way to recognize the contributions and talents of the immigrant population.
According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, over the next three years, the number of applications among the undocumented is expected to hit roughly 1.4 million.

California is now one of nine states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia to offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

AB60 is only for driving purposes and not for other matters, such as ID for going to other states. It is for safe driving purposes.

“If you don’t have a criminal record or aren’t doing anything bad, you shouldn’t be afraid,” explained Lara.

“All agencies involved are working tirelessly to ensure that all applicants are protected. I urge those with questions or concerns to contact the DMV and learn more about the benefits of AB60,” added Lara.

According to Lara, the law prohibits state or local government agencies, officials, or programs that receive state funds from discriminating against someone because he or she holds or presents an AB60 license.

This includes state and law enforcement officials. AB60 specifies that it is a violation of law, including, but not limited to, a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, to discriminate against an individual who holds or presents an AB60 license.

Additionally, AB60 includes language that prohibits the use of an individual’s citizenship or immigration status as a basis for investigation, arrest, citation or detention.

Under AB 60 Drivers’ License Bill undocumented Californians can receive a non-commercial drivers’ license from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) by completing the DL-44 application form, paying the standard $33 application fee, and passing both the knowledge and behind-the-wheel tests. Under the law, AB 60 driver’s license recipients are protected from discrimination by law enforcement agencies.
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