State closes gap on ID for everyone regardless of status

Assembly Bill 1766 brings state-issued IDs to all California residents regardless of legal status

SACRAMENTO – A new bill was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a way to grant additional support for undocumented communities in the state.

The bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 1766, was signed by Newsom on Sept. 23 and will support the state’s immigrant population by expanding state-issued identification card eligibility to all California residents. According to a press release from the governor’s office, this is an important step towards inclusion and participation in the state’s economy as well as its communities. The bill states the law will go into effect no later than July 1, 2027.

“California is expanding opportunity for everyone, regardless of immigration status,” Newsom said. “We’re a state of refuge, a majority-minority state where 27% of us are immigrants.”

Leticia Lopez, Central Valley organizer for Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) in Porterville, said IDs are required for more places than people might initially think due to things like safety concerns. 

Lopez distributes information on updates to laws that benefit those who are low income, mixed status or undocumented. 

She said undocumented individuals picking up their children from school typically need an identification card to identify themselves as the person assigned to pick up the student, which they might not have. Although immigrant residents have other forms of identification, like a passport, she said a state-issued ID would allow them a certain level of anonymity.

“Having a California issued ID would allow them to basically pick up their kids, go into government offices, without having to show or, in a way, expose their immigration status,” Lopez said.

Lopez said CHIRLA, a Los Angeles county-based organization focused on immigrant rights in the state, has lobbied and advocated for AB 1766, and seeing it come to fruition is a huge accomplishment.

“Once folks start obtaining their IDs, that’ll be a win,” Lopez said. “They have already passed it, but once [undocumented individuals] have it in their hands, that’s a different emotion.”

With a legal form of identification, undocumented workers like street vendors will have an easier time getting local health permits. Immigrant students will have more options for funding their college educations with improved access to in-state tuition for universities and public colleges, as well as English as a second language (ESL) classes at community colleges.

This law also provides low-income residents eligibility for legal assistance with civil matters that affect basic human needs, regardless of their immigration status. It will provide community health workers and promoters an easier time with providing culturally and linguistically responsive care, which guides a provider towards seeing clients for all aspects of their identity regardless of their cultural background.

An alternate plea scheme, or agreement, will be created for defendants charged with drug offenses, which can create specific harm for noncitizen residents of California.

Prior to the signing of AB 1766, residents without proof of legal presence in the U.S. could receive a driver’s license under AB 60 regardless of their immigration status. According to a report from the Institute for Local Government, licenses granted under AB 60 do not give state residents the right to work or vote and does not make them eligible for benefits they were not eligible for without the license. AB 60 was signed into law in 2013 by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

According to Rita Medina, deputy director of state policy and advocacy for CHIRLA, AB 60 licenses aided immigrant populations by providing them with a sense of security as they drive. However, she said the bill made the assumption that everybody is capable of driving.

“That leaves out populations of seniors, of people who just don’t know how to drive, don’t have anybody to teach them, can’t afford a car [or who] rely on public transportation,” Medina said. “So [AB 1766] will help.”

According to a report from the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), a statewide immigrant rights organization that promotes and protects the safety and public benefits of immigrants, certain groups are disproportionately impacted by their inability to receive licenses under AB 60. In particular, women, elders and people with disabilities are typically unable to get these licenses and do not have any access to a state, government-issued form of identification. The report states that women in a household are less likely to have access to a car than male counterparts. 

Additionally, people with mobility disabilities like epilepsy and elders with diseases that affect eye, muscular and cognitive functions are unable to obtain driver’s licenses. Therefore, these groups are unable to use AB 60 licenses as a form of identification, and AB 1766 can help bridge that gap.

“The ID is the most essential gateway to meaningful participation and inclusion, and as such, they should be available to every California resident,” the CIPC report states.

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