LOS ANGELES -- LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday adding California to the growing list of states allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain driver licenses.

Immigrant advocates have long lobbied for the change in the nation's most populous state. The licenses would carry a distinction on the front of the card that states the document may be used for driving, not as federal identification.

Several immigrant advocates initially raised concerns that the marker will contribute to racial profiling. The bill includes protections against discrimination.

Brown predicted that California's endorsement of driver's licenses for immigrants will mean more states will follow.

"This is only the first step," he told a cheering crowd at the signing ceremony outside City Hall in Los Angeles. "When a million people without their documents drive legally and with respect in the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice. No longer are undocumented people in the shadows."

Brown was scheduled to repeat the signing later in Fresno, the heart of the vast Central Valley agricultural region.

State and local officials touted the importance of getting immigrants properly trained and tested so they know how to drive and know traffic rules in California.

"That's what this bill is about, making the streets of this state safer," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told the crowd.

Over the last two decades, immigrant advocates have pushed to get licenses restored in California. The effort took on added significance in recent years as immigrants caught driving without a license began seeing their cars impounded and wound up being screened by federal immigration authorities for deportation.

Most states don't allow immigrants in the country illegally to obtain licenses. But a growing number, including Colorado and Oregon, have passed similar measures to issue marked licenses for driving purposes only.

In California, the bill authored by Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo would grant licenses to anyone who passes written and road tests, regardless of immigration status.

State officials estimate 1.4 million drivers will apply for licenses under the law, which was supported by the state's Police Chiefs Association and insurance authorities.

It isn't clear whether entities like local government offices, libraries or banks will accept the license as a form of identification. The licenses are expected to be issued starting in Jan. 2015.

It isn't the first time the California legislature passed a measure giving licenses to immigrants in the country illegally. Led by former Democratic state lawmaker and current Los Angeles city councilman Gil Cedillo, the legislature passed license bills that were struck down by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Under Brown, immigrant advocates saw a new opportunity to get a bill signed. The bill is one of several immigrant-friendly measures passed by the legislature this year, including overtime pay for domestic workers and an effort to scale back collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

Brown has enjoyed strong support among Latino voters, whose numbers are growing in California, and appears to sense how the broader public has become more welcoming toward immigrants even as the debate over an immigration overhaul has stalled in Congress, said Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at California State University, Los Angeles.

On the steps of City Hall, scores of immigrant rights activists and state and local officials chanted "champion" in Spanish at the mention of his name. In his speech, Brown urged lawmakers in Washington to move forward on more sweeping immigration reform.

Ismael Salvador, a 63-year-old factory worker from El Salvador, turned out to see the bill signing. He said the change will radically alter the lives of his two daughters who are in the country illegally. One risks driving every morning to her job as a lunch truck cook, and the other cleans houses and relies on rides because she is afraid to get behind the wheel.

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  • The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)

    California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.

  • The Worst: Arizona SB 1070

    The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)

  • Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87

    The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17

  • Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502

    This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>

  • A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497

    Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)

  • The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C

    Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010

  • The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56

    The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>