SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – The California Department of Motor Vehicles is checking up on immigrants in the country illegally who are applying for driver’s licenses to see if they had older licenses under different identities. But officials said Tuesday that they won’t penalize applicants whose records are otherwise clean.

Immigrants living in California illegally are now eligible for driver’s licenses under a program that started on Jan. 2. Immigrant advocates say some applicants who previously held licenses under Social Security numbers that were not their own have been told they will need to meet with a DMV investigator.

Armando Botello, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, said those applications are being checked against the agency’s databases to prevent duplication and ensure drivers don’t have outstanding traffic tickets.

“The person shouldn’t worry about documents, shouldn’t worry about a previous record if the record is clean and if the license has not been used (…) to commit a major crime” such as identity theft, Botello told the Associated Press after a news conference about the licenses in Sacramento.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2013 to allow immigrants to drive in a program designed to improve road safety and make immigrants’ lives easier.

The state expects to field 1.4 million applications for the licenses over the next three years. About 46,000 immigrants started applying in the first three days of the program.

Immigrant advocates have urged applicants who previously used someone else’s Social Security number to obtain a driver’s license to check with a lawyer before applying.

Advocates say they have seen a handful of cases where immigrants who previously had licenses were told they would need to meet with a DMV investigator to complete their applications.

Immigration attorney Patricia Corrales said three of her clients who went to DMV offices to apply for the licenses were frightened after they were told they needed to sign an affidavit acknowledging fraud.

“It is kind of contrary to the whole purpose” of the new law, which is to encourage more drivers to be licensed, Corrales said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.


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