SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — The proposed design for a California driver’s license for immigrants in the country illegally doesn’t meet national security standards, the Department of Homeland Security said.
In a letter, Homeland Security officials told California’s Department of Motor Vehicles that the license would need to state on its face that it cannot be used as federal identification and should contain a unique design or color.
Otherwise, it would not meet requirements under the REAL ID Act, a federal law passed to create national identification standards after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, David Heyman, assistant secretary for policy, and Philip McNamara, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs, wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.
While the federal government wants the new licenses to contain a marker easily recognizable by agents checking for identification at federal buildings or airports for security purposes, immigrant advocates in California have pushed for the licenses to be as similar as possible as those carried by non-immigrants to avoid inviting discrimination.
Armando Botello, a DMV spokesman, declined to say whether the state would change how the new license would look, or whether the federal government’s decision would affect plans to issue the document by January 2015.
“While we are disappointed by this ruling, the DMV will continue to work vigorously with lawmakers, affected communities and federal officials to design a license that complies with federal law,” Botello said in a statement Tuesday.
California is one of roughly a dozen states that have enacted laws to issue licenses for immigrants in the country illegally. The state passed a law to issue the licenses last year and has been striving to make the new license an example for other states to follow.
The proposed licenses would largely look the same as other California licenses but contain different lettering on the front and a notice that the card can’t be used as federal identification on the back.
DMV Director Jean Shiomoto wrote Homeland Security last month seeking approval of the design, saying the agency believed it would meet federal standards.
Like many other states, California has been working to comply with the REAL ID Act. Some states have already complied; others have been deemed non-compliant. Federal officials plan to start enforcing the law in phases, restricting acceptance of identification cards from states that fail to meet the standards for entry to federal facilities and eventually, to board an airplane.
Tanya Broder, a senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said the licenses issued by other states for immigrant drivers have more distinct markers than California’s proposed design.
“We certainly could decide not to comply with REAL ID for now, and see whether DHS changes its policy on what it will certify, or we could decide to make some number of tweaks that satisfy DHS,” Broder said. “But we do need to look at the spirit and intent of the state Legislature,” she said, adding that immigrant advocates, policymakers and law enforcement carefully negotiated the proposed design of the new licenses.