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Apr 18, 2005
Driver’s License and the Real I.D. Bill
- Atty. Robert Reeves Email this article

Living in California without a driver’s license is extremely difficult. Undocumented aliens are not able to obtain a California driver’s license and without a license one is unable to obtain auto insurance. Without a license, it is also difficult or impossible to open a bank account, enter federal buildings, etc.


Some undocumented residents of California have been forced to obtain a driver’s license and register their automobiles in a neighboring state. This maybe a better alternative than driving without a driver’s license and insurance. In order to obtain a drivers license one would have to have an address in that state. California law makers should consider the loss of revenue to the state of CA, increased cost of insurance premiums for those that are licensed in California to pay for the accidents of the unlicensed and uninsured motorists.


Pending now in Washington is a bill which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on February 10, 2005.    The authors claim that it is designed to tighten security at U.S. borders. The “Real ID” bill passed by a vote of 261 to 161.  The bill would make driver’s licenses unacceptable for federal identification purposes such as boarding an airplane.  Secondly, it would make it more difficult for foreigners arriving in the U.S. to win political asylum.  And a third provision of the bill would allow completion of a three-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexican border near San Diego.


Lawmakers claim the inspiration for the “Real ID” bill was not to be anti-immigrant, but rather to prevent another 9/11 situation where the hijackers used driver’s licenses as identification to board the planes.   


Proponents of the “Real ID” bill say that it does not take away a state’s right to issue driver’s licenses.  But with legislation pending in several states, including California, to permit undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, the “Real ID” may not be of any benefit to California residents bill. Governor Schwarzeneggar reversed a law signed by former Gov. Gray Davis that permitted undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses.  While a revised State Law Bill is back on Gov. Schwarzeneggar’s desk, he said he will not sign it without assurance that the bill will prevent terrorists from obtaining a driver’s license in California.


For now, undocumented immigrants are unable to apply for a driver’s license in California.  If the “Real ID” bill becomes law, it does not directly affect California’s power to grant licenses, but indirectly asks State law makers to take precautionary measures similar to “Real ID” bill.”


The details of the “Real ID” bill may be worked out in the coming months as the Senate debates its provisions.  While it may not pass as a stand-alone bill, it could be attached to other “must-pass” legislation. 


I think Congress should get real and pass legislation to legalize our undocumented aliens and increase the visa quotas and just scrap the “Real Id” bill.






Author's Note:  The analysis and suggestions offered in this column do not create a lawyer-client relationship and are not a substitute for the individual legal research and personalized representation that is essential to every case. 

 Atty. Reeves has represented clients in numerous landmark immigration cases that have set new policies regarding INS action and immigrants' rights.  His many successes have been published in Interpreter Releases, Immigration Briefings and AILA Monthly which are nationally recognized immigration periodicals widely read by immigration lawyers, State Department and immigration officials.  His cases are also cited in test books as a guide to other immigration practitioners.  His offices are located in Pasadena, San Francisco, Beijing and Makati City.  Telephone: (2) 759-6777 E-mail: Website:

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