By Jaqueline Hurtado and Catherine E. Shoichet
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — It was a moment Jose Diaz knew he didn’t want to miss.
The day laborer and undocumented immigrant waited for more than 10 years to see it.
“I missed work today,” he said, “but I felt like I had to be here.”
Diaz was in the crowd cheering after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law Thursday that will allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses in his state.
“This is only the first step,” Brown said from the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, adding that he hopes other states will follow California’s example.
“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,” he said. “No longer are undocumented people in the shadows. They are alive and well and respected in the state of California.”
The new measure, known as Assembly Bill 60, requires the California Department of Motor Vehicle issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who can prove their identities, have established California residency and pass driving exams. The law goes into effect no later than January 1, 2015.
Details about how the new licenses will look and the exact process for obtaining them are still in the works. But even so, supporters of the measure cheered the signing of the law.
“To have a license is not a luxury. It is a necessity, because in cars we go to work, to school and shopping and without a license really we are limited in many things,” said Frida Hinojosa, an undocumented immigrant.
For more than a year, driver’s licenses and other state benefits have been at the heart of a battle in the nationwide immigration debate.
Supporters of licenses for undocumented immigrants argue that it’s safer to have more drivers trained and insured, and opponents argue that such systems are rife with fraud.
The rules vary from state to state.
In January, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said she would push to repeal the state law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. That same month, the governor of Illinois signed a new law that would allow undocumented immigrants to get temporary licenses.
In at least 45 states, officials have said recipients of deferred action — the Obama administration’s program for young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — are eligible for driver’s licenses, according to the National Immigration Law Center. But in some states, like Arizona and Nebraska, officials have stepped up efforts to stop licenses from being issued, the law center said.
CNN en Español’s Jaqueline Hurtado reported from Los Angeles. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN’s Gustavo Valdes and John Branch contributed to this report.
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