For survivors of domestic violence, a driver's license is a key tool for asserting independence from an abusive partner and building a new life.
And while most of us take the ability to get a license for granted, one group of Californians has long been left out: undocumented immigrants.
But that's about to change. A state law called AB 60 will soon allow all who call the Golden State home to apply for a drivers' license.
Right now, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles is putting the finishing touches on rules to guide the application process. That includes what kinds of documents the department will accept to verify identity and residency for people who have lived in and contributed to California's economic and social growth for years, but lack Social Security Numbers thanks to Congress' failure to update our immigration system.
This is a tremendous opportunity to empower immigrant women who are fighting back against abuse, and to make their process for leaving or escaping abuse easier. With a few common-sense tweaks to the DMV's thoughtful regulations, we can make a huge difference in the lives of survivors.
Our organization has counseled and worked with countless brave immigrant survivors of domestic violence to remove themselves from dangerous and painful situations. We hope the DMV will take their experiences into account. .
Consider a survivor of violence who has long yearned to leave an abusive situation - but without a license, finds most jobs out of reach. When she finally escapes to a shelter, she has little more than the clothes on her back.
Immigrant survivors of domestic violence often have few identity documents to begin with, and may be forced to leave those behind when they flee an abusive home. It's vital to the well-being of survivors and their children for the DMV to accept a range of documents to verify identity, such as records from churches and community organizations they are a part of..
It's also important to remember that domestic violence and homeless shelters often provide vital lifelines as survivors work to rebuild their lives. The DMV should accept statements from these shelters and other public agencies that confirm the person is living here in California. For the safety and of privacy of those leaving life-threatening situations, we shouldn't require these statements to list an address.
To be sure, the agency has proposed a special review process for applicants who don't have key documents like passports and consular IDs, but do have, for example, school transcripts and marriage certificates
We are glad the DMV is taking an innovative approach. To recognize the difficult circumstances of domestic violence survivors who often have to literally flee without a single document, the agency should go one step further, and accept credible written explanation of why survivors simply cannot produce any such document.
With a license, a survivor can more easily transport her or his family to safety, find work so she or he doesn't have to depend financially on an abusive spouse or partner, and rebuild their life.