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Sonoma County immigrants, advocates cheer driver's license law

Newer cars, safer roads, fewer vehicle impounds and more insurance — that's how local Latino immigrants described the possible effects of a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday that grants driving privileges to undocumented immigrants in California.

For one Graton day laborer, the new law means he can buy a "better and safer car" to get to work without fear that it will be impounded if he is pulled over by police.

"This is a relief," said Manuel, an undocumented immigrant who asked that only his first name be used because of his immigration status. "Without a license, you're always on edge, afraid that you'll be stopped by the police."

The bill had the backing of the state's Police Chiefs Association and insurance authorities, who said it would make the streets safer by encouraging undocumented immigrants to learn the rules of the road.

State and local immigrant rights advocates said the move lifts a significant burden from undocumented immigrants, who have not been able to drive legally in California since the mid-1990s when the state required driver's license applicants to provide proof of legal presence in the United States.

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