SANTA ANA (AP) — Federal officials have approved new wording on a proposed California driver’s license for immigrants who are living in the country illegally, ending months of debate over what the card should say.
Homeland Security officials wrote in a letter earlier this week that California’s decision to include the words “federal limits apply” on the face of the license would comply with a law that created national identification standards after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a copy of the letter that was made public Friday.
Federal officials had rejected an earlier version of the license because it wasn’t distinctive enough from the license for legal residents. The state had suggested having the letters “DP,” for “driving privilege,” in the space where conventional licenses bear the letters “DL,” and carrying a statement on the back saying the immigrant licenses are not acceptable for federal purposes, such as boarding a flight.
Since then, state officials and immigrant advocates have worked to come up with wording that meets federal requirements but doesn’t call too much attention to immigrants’ legal status in the country.
In the letter, DHS officials wrote that the license must also feature a unique design or color, and that the letter does not constitute a formal approval of the license’s design.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether California’s latest design proposal meets these other requirements. Calls and email messages to a DHS spokeswoman wasn’t immediately returned.
California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said in a statement, however, that the decision lets the agency move forward to start producing the new licenses that will be issued starting in January. The state expects to issue 1.4 million new licenses during the first three years.
DMV officials did not immediately respond to further questions about the new design.
Immigrant advocates welcomed the decision and said they’ve eagerly awaited getting licenses into the hands of immigrants in the country illegally, many who are already driving but lack a valid license.
“We look forward to an official DHS approval of the license design in the coming weeks,” Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said in a statement.