Some Undocumented Immigrants Can Now Apply For Professional Licenses In California

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee

Some undocumented immigrants in California can now practice the occupation that they trained in, because of new legislation Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed this week. The legislation requires the 40 licensing boards under the California Department of Consumer Affairs to accept professional license applicants regardless of legal status by 2016. The move expands on legislation that Brown signed last year to issue law licenses to qualified undocumented immigrants.

Prior to the law’s enactment, undocumented immigrants had to provide their social security numbers to obtain licenses, but many were ineligible to get such a number. Under the new law, undocumented immigrants could use individual taxpayer identification numbers, a federal document that is much easier to obtain for non-citizens, in lieu of social security numbers as proof of identification.

“This law will not only be incentive for those immigrant youth to finish that education,” Joseph Villela, a policy advocate at the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said to California Health Line. “It makes sure that once they’re finished, they have a way to exercise that profession by providing them with a license.”

Under a 2012 executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), some undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers have been granted temporary legal presence and were allowed to apply for social security numbers. But the state law offers DACA recipients a way to permanently practice their professions within the state since the DACA program can be terminated by another executive action and recipients must apply every two years. It also allows undocumented immigrants ineligible for DACA to be eligible for professional licenses. One DACA recipient told a Los Angeles NPR affiliate, that the state law “gives affirmation that professional licensing will be an option with or without DACA.”

The new law follows a critical state Supreme Court ruling, which allowed Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who passed his bar exam, to practice law in California. A 1996 federal anti-immigration law prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving professional licenses like those issued to lawyers and teachers, but leaves it up to the state to “render an undocumented immigrant eligible to obtain such a professional license through the enactment of a state law.”

Because the issuance of professional licenses is up to each state, it remains to be seen whether the new law could influence other states. Brown has passed other pieces of legislation to expand immigrant rights in the past — many can now apply for driver’s licenses and obtain loans for some public colleges through a pool of $9.2 million he approved. California also passed the statewide Trust Act, which limits local law enforcement officials from sharing biometric information with federal immigration officials.