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New laws to help immigrants in California without legal status

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The Granada Hills location is one of four new processing centers opened by the DMV to serve first-time applicants.
Josie Huang/KPCC
The Granada Hills location is one of four new processing centers opened by the DMV to serve first-time applicants.

From new driver's licenses to a student loan program, SCPR's Leslie Berestein Rojas explains how many people took advantage of these new rules in their first few days.

In this new year, there's a handful of new laws designed to help immigrants in California.

Many are geared towards those who've come to the country illegally, and Southern California Public Radio has been reporting on them as they were debated and passed in the past year.

Reporter Leslie Berestein Rojas offer this round up:

California residents, even those here illegally, now qualify for a special class of driver's licenses under AB60

The demand is pretty much what DMV officials expected. They reported that more than 17,000 people were seen the first day – Jan. 2 – to apply for licenses. Others came in on Saturday, the third, but those numbers won't be reported until Tuesday. 

Among those in line were Guatemalan immigrant Carlos Barrera who showed up at 9 p.m. New Year's Day at the Granada Hills DMV to stake out a spot.

"When you driving with no license it's a risk, it's like a flip of a coin," he told SCPR. "You never know when they're going to stop you."

He said he'd had his car impounded three times in three years.

These new drivers will qualify for insurance through the California Low-Cost Auto program

This program has been around for 14 years to make insurance more affordable for people with licenses. However up to this point, immigrants without legal status haven't been able to take advantage of it. They can buy insurance elsewhere, but it's pricey and many don't bother even though it's required by law.

By opening it up to people who get licenses through AB60, the state hopes to encourage public safety. Just 12,000 people in the whole state signed-up for it last year -- so it's not hugely popular -- but the Department of Insurance expects a 30 percent uptick on their website from those looking for information. 

The California Dream Loan Program will make college more affordable for immigrants

The program will let students without legal status to borrow $4,000 a year if they attend a UC and CSU campus. Unlike other states, they get in-state tuition, too, and have access to state funded grants and fee waivers.

Thousands are expected to take advantage of the program, and on UCLA's campus alone officials expect 450 students to apply.

It will initially cost $10 million to start the loan program, which can't go over well with some taxpayers, but the idea is for the program to become self-funding as students repay the initial loans and that money becomes available to new students.

Money will be allocated to provide legal services to unaccompanied minors who crossed the border into the US

The state will put in $3 million to provide legal help to unaccompanied children who arrived recently to the US. It will go towards legal nonprofits so they can hire more staff to represent these minors as their cases are heard.

The federal government's goal has been to expedite these cases, but no telling how many could be resolved by the end of 2015.

Immigrants in the country illegally can apply for professional licenses

This would be for immigrants who would qualify for licenses in legal, medical, financial and other fields. All 40 licensing boards under the Department of Consumer Affairs will have to consider applicants -- regardless of their immigration status -- by 2016.

While we might see some aspects of this law rolling out sooner, prepare to see more details and information about the process in the year ahead.

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