Washington D.C. allows drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants

Gray signed the bill, which goes into effect next May 1, on Monday. Photo: Sam Ford

WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - Starting next year, people living in the nation's capital who don't have legal permission to reside in the United States will be able to get driver's licenses.

Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill on Monday that will allow the District of Columbia's Department of Motor Vehicles to issue licenses to people who can't prove their immigration status.

Monday's signing ceremony for the bill quickly became a festive event celebrating legislation that he says will provide a vital public service to the undocumented community.

"It's an earnest effort to give people identification and legitimacy in terms of driving a car," Gray said.

The new legislation will go into effect on May 1 unless Congress intervenes, which isn't considered likely. City officials are estimating that about 16,000 people will apply for the new licenses.

The bill creates a two-tiered system of licenses in order to comply with federal law. The licenses for immigrants who can't prove their legal status would be marked as invalid for federal purposes.

D.C. residents who will benefit from the legislation by and large support the move, saying that it gives them more benefits and legitimacy in the city.

"I think this is a great idea," Washington resident Daniel Trejo, who volunteers at the city's Office of Latino Affairs. "We can have many benefits. (It's) a great opportunity that the mayor is taking."

The District joins 10 states, including Maryland, that have granted licenses to people living in the country illegally. Some states outside of those who issue licenses to undocumented immigrants don't honor them, but proponents insist that they're better than nothing.

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