- Associated Press - Friday, September 19, 2014

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - Federal officials have given their backing to a redesigned license for immigrants living in California illegally, which includes wording that distinguishes it from those for legal residents.

Homeland Security officials told the California Department of Motor Vehicles that the state’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.

A statement on the back of the card would state that the license cannot be used for federal purposes, such as boarding a flight or entering a federal building.

Federal officials had rejected an earlier version of the license because it didn’t meet national security standards and wasn’t distinctive enough from the license for legal residents. The state had proposed a license that would largely look the same as licenses for legal residents, except that it would have the letters “DP,” for “driving privilege,” in the space where conventional licenses bear the letters “DL.” The state also proposed adding a notice in the back that the card can’t be used as federal identification.

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, Department of Homeland Security 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.

“DHS commends California’s efforts to improve the security of its licenses and identification cards and looks forward to continuing to work with you on this matter,” the Sept. 17 letter said.

Like many other states, California has been working to fully comply with the REAL ID Act, which was passed by Congress after the terrorist attacks to strengthen rules for government-sanctioned identification.

The DMV said in a statement 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. The DMV has been preparing to handle the surge of new applications by hiring employees and opening four temporary field offices in Lompoc, Stanton, Granada Hills and San Jose.

Officials estimate that the $33 application fee for the license will generate enough revenue to cover the new program.

A law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday would also allow the immigrant drivers to apply for California’s affordable automobile insurance program.

Immigrant advocates welcomed the decision and said they have 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.

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