The way car insurance applications are processed will see changes starting in 2015.
As many undocumented immigrants prepare to receive their first California driver license ever starting Jan. 2, 2015, some applicants in East Los Angeles have already started making lines—on the phone, at consular offices and even at the DMV.
“I made two appointments for my husband in case he doesn’t make it the first time,” said Sandra Enriquez, 35, a Lyft driver who lives in East L.A. with her undocumented husband.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is expecting so many new applicants for driver licenses that it has decided to open up four temporary offices and increase hiring by 10 percent, according to a spokesperson for the California DMV.
This surge in applicants is expected after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 60 (AB 60) in October 2013, which in the next three years will allow as many as 1.4 million undocumented immigrants living in California to a get a driver license.
While Enriquez and her husband live in East L.A., they decided to forego making appointments at the nearby DMVs on Mission Road and in the neighboring city of Montebello.
“The earliest appointment I was able to get [for my husband] was for Jan. 25 in Whittier,” said Enriquez. “The second one is on Feb. 10 in Pasadena.”
“Those are predominantly Latino areas, so there are no appointments available right now,” said Enriquez, who tried to make appointments at both. “All the slots are booked. That’s why I decided to look at DMVs in ‘whiter’ areas.”
Armando Botello, media relations director at the California DMV, couldn’t confirm that all the slots at the DMVs near East L.A. were filled, but he did say all DMV offices have already received thousands of calls requesting appointments.
“We’re expecting a lot of people, so that’s why we’re opening up four temporary offices in existing large spaces to better accommodate the influx of applicants,” said Botello in a phone interview.
Four driver license processing DMV offices opened in November in Lompoc, Stanton, Granada Hills and San Jose. Starting Jan. 3, 2015, all DMVs across California will have extended Saturday hours.
The process begins before the DMV appointment
Sonia Velazco, 43, and Moises Escobar, 41, an undocumented couple living in East L.A., say they won't be shocked by the long lines during their DMV appointment on Feb. 11 as they’ve already started making lines elsewhere.
They woke up early one Saturday morning to line up outside of an Adriana’s Insurance office on Atlantic Boulevard in East L.A. along with at least 150 other people.
“We’ve been here for two hours now waiting to get our matrícula,” said Escobar.
A matrícula consular, or consular identification card, is an I.D. issued by the Government of Mexico to Mexican citizens residing outside of Mexico. The matrícula is what will fulfill the “proof of identity” requirement to get a license under AB 60 for a lot of undocumented immigrants.Moises Escobar shows off his brand new "matrícula," which is an idenitification card issued by the Mexican Gov't. (Fernando Hurtado)
Velazco and Escobar have been renewing their matrícula every five years for the past thirteen years that they’ve been living in the United States. This year, the Mexican Consulate decided to offer renewal services at a variety of locations around Los Angeles to ease the foot traffic at the Consulate General of Mexico office near MacArthur Park.
Adriana’s Insurance, a leading car insurance broker in Southern California serving the Latino community, in East L.A. was one of those locations.
“We’re also hosting and facilitating 28 DMV manual study groups from now until March 2015 to help applicants ace the written test,” said Samuel Lozada, regional manager for Adriana’s Insurance.
But a lot of applicants say they’re not necessarily worried about acing the written nor the driving test.
“We’ve been driving for the past 13 years,” said Velazco in Spanish. “I’m a homemaker, but my husband needs a car to get to work in West Covina, and I need it to take the kids to school.”
“Here in L.A., driving is not a hobby. It’s a necessity for your livelihood. You can’t get around easily on the Metro,” said Candida Cruz, 45, who was also in line to get her matrícula.
VIDEO: What it’s like to drive undocumented in L.A.
See what goes through an undocumented driver's head as he roams the streets of East L.A.
Driver licenses a "huge relief" to many
In 2010, Candida Cruz got her car impounded after she was stopped at a DUI and driver license checkpoint held by the Los Angeles Police Department one weekend.
“I had to pay $1,000 dollars to get my car back because I didn’t have a valid license,” said Cruz. “So you can imagine, having a license will allow me to no longer drive in constant fear.”
Velazco and Escobar have had similar experiences driving without a license in L.A.
“We live kind of an inversed life,” added Escobar. “Whereas most people are leaving L.A. County during the holiday weekends to visit relatives, we usually stay in to avoid checkpoints. Holidays are hotspots for those.”
Licenses could help undocumented drivers save money
While a number of undocumented immigrants say having a driver license is a “huge relief,” another benefit they will see right away is cheaper car insurance rates.
“Right now, we have over 80 companies that we work with,” said Ivette Nuñez, a sales agent at Adriana’s Insurance who preferred to stay anonymous. “A small percentage takes their matrícula. Once they have a driver license, then the market is completely open for them. [That means] access to cheaper rates [and] better insurance companies.”Insurance rates depend on a variety of factors like marital status, home address and type of coverage, among other things. This rate only takes into account the 80 companies that work with Adriana's Insurance. (Fernando Hurtado)