On Sept.12 the California legislature passed bill AB60 that, if signed into law by the governor, will allow undocumented immigrants residing in California to obtain driver’s licenses.

Applicants will have to pass a driving test and provide a proof of identity and California residency to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Pursuant to the bill, the California DMV will be accepting consular identification cards, passports, birth certificates and other documents to establish the applicant’s identity. Income tax returns, school transcripts, utility bills, and other documentation will be acceptable to prove California residency.

Currently, undocumented immigrants cannot obtain a driver’s license in California but many of them have to drive a car to get to work and they do so without a license. When stopped by the police, they are charged with a violation of California Vehicle Code Section 12500 (unlawful to drive unless licensed). This violation can be charged as an infraction or as a misdemeanor.

If VC 12500 is charged as an infraction, the individual may go to traffic court and fight his case or pay the fine and not fear any immigration consequences.

When charged as a misdemeanor, VC 12500 requires the individual to appear in criminal court. Many undocumented immigrants wrongfully fear that they will get arrested at the courthouse and will be deported, so they choose not to go to their hearings.

A failure to appear at a hearing further complicates the matter. If the undocumented immigrant lives in a California county that has adopted Secure Communities (S-Comm)—a federal program that allows police departments and sheriff’s offices to exchange information with the Department of Homeland Security—the immigrant has higher chances of being arrested (and put in deportation proceedings) either after missing a hearing or after a misdemeanor conviction under VC 12500.

Initially, S-Comm intended to identify and deport immigrants who presented threats to public safety. In practice, however, S-Comm has targeted and put many non-criminal, undocumented immigrants in deportation proceedings.

If the governor signs the bill, undocumented immigrants will be able to purchase car insurance and register vehicles with their AB60 driver’s licenses. As a result, it will prevent inquiries related to the driver’s immigration status.

Additionally, undocumented immigrants with pending cases of VC12500 may be able to request time to obtain driver’s licenses. Once they have received AB60 driver’s licenses, they can have their cases dismissed and avoid a misdemeanor conviction on their record.

The legislation will have to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and implemented by the DMV before the beneficiaries of these measures can actually obtain driving permits.

Such permits would only be issued to authorize operation of motor vehicles and would not be accepted as eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits.

WILSON PURVES is legal advisor for immigration matters with the Mexican Consulate of San Francisco and a licensed California attorney practicing Immigration Law in San Francisco.