Telling unheard stories from California's undocumented immigrants

AB 60 License

On January 1, 2015, California joined the ranks of a handful of states that offer drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants. In the days that followed, television news showed long lines of people waiting outside DMV offices from Humboldt to Oceanside. These applicants had come out of the shadows to apply for the only piece of official identification that they could get in California – a driver’s license issued under the state’s AB 60 law.

AB 60

And yet, one year later, more than a million eligible immigrants still have not applied. While SVCF’s immigration grantmaking program actively supported work on the issue even before AB 60 was passed in 2014, there is still much work to do. 

In 2015 an estimated 605,000 people received their licenses under AB 60, accounting for nearly half of all new licenses issued in the state. For many immigrants, getting a license was not just a decision about safety or legitimacy, but one about acceptance in their communities. Now that the news cameras have disappeared, the stories of whether the process is working or how it has changed the lives of thousands of California residents have been largely left untold. 

Shortly after AB 60 was implemented, SVCF partnered with Presente.org, SIREN, Silicon Valley De-Bug and the Drive California Coalition to launch a storytelling campaign to encourage more eligible individuals to come forward and get their drivers’ licenses. This partnership was a natural progression of SVCF’s previous work to support AB 60 while the legislation was being considered in Sacramento. This time around, SVCF and partners collected stories from dozens of undocumented immigrants by using Storycall, an anonymous platform that was deployed in multiple languages. 

AB 60 license holders told us in their own words what the license means to them.

  • “Now I can take my kids to see the rest of California without excuses or fear. I’m very excited for my first big road trip,” said one person.
  • Another emphasized safety, saying, “As I studied for the exam, I realized that there were rules I did not know, and I feel like I am a better driver now.”
  • “It is more worrisome and scary to drive without a license than to show up at the DMV to obtain one,” explained someone else.

Across the board, their tone was celebratory and their messages were about concern for their communities and freedom from fear.

 

The stories we collected have since been shared in videos (above), posters and graphics across the Internet and in public buildings. Our hope is that these stories will inspire others to step out of the shadows as well. 

We extend special thanks for this work to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which supported the Informed Communities Initiative, and to the SVCF Immigrant Legal Services Cohort. 

For more information and to watch the video or download a poster for your community space, please visit the DriveCA Stories page.