Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Immigrants – What To Do?
One of the most intensely debated issues involved in the immigration reform debate is whether illegal immigrants should be able to have driver’s licenses or not. Currently, Washington, Illinois, Maryland and New Mexico are the only four states that do not require proof of lawful U.S. residency to get a driver’s license. In other words, this is mainly an issue for the states to decide individually; however, the federal government has gotten involved in the debate as well. In fact, some of you may remember that President Obama was publicly in favor of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants during his campaigning days.
Those in favor of the policy (giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants) claim that not issuing them leads to discriminatory practices in law enforcement. Additionally, proponents claim that the policy will make roads safer because these immigrants will be able to acquire the proper driver’s training, testing, and insurance. Moreover, proponents argue the policy helps law enforcement efforts to have more people registered in state databases.
Those against the policy claim it makes it easier for these immigrants to live and work in the U.S. illegally. The underlying logic is that a driver’s license would allow immigrants to have access to other documentation and forms of identification that would provide an impression that the immigrant is actually here lawfully. Also, some argue that providing people driver’s licenses without the requirement of lawful U.S. residency causes the versatility (and value) of that state’s driver’s license to decrease. In other words, certain states may not recognize the validity of the driver’s licenses from the four states listed above (Washington, Illinois, Maryland and New Mexico).
If all this isn’t complex enough for you, there are other complications that get mixed into this whole debate. One such complication is called the Real ID Act. The Real ID Act is a law that was passed in 2005 and mandates minimal standards set forth by the government for issuing state identification. The standards require legal status and a social security number. Currently, the Real ID Act is set to go into effect in 2011. The reason this affects the driver’s license debate is because many states will fall under a category in which the driver’s licenses that these states issue will not be valid for federal purposes (i.e. access to federal buildings, nuclear power plants, boarding aircraft, etc.). To learn more about the Real ID Act, you can visit the specified link at Dept. of Homeland Security Website (DHS). Additionally, some wonder whether many states will adopt the Real ID standards with regard to driver’s licenses themselves. One side note is that Janet Napolitano (Secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Sec.) has agreed to review the policy.
The other complication that affects the driver’s license issue is something called “287(g).” Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) basically allows for DHS to delegate the authority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to state and local law enforcement agencies. In other words, state and local police officers would essentially be able to perform immigration law enforcement functions. The reason this is important with regard to the driver’s license debate is because law enforcement officers may now be asking for immigration status when pulling over someone for a simple traffic stop. This would subject illegal immigrants to life-changing consequences simply for tiny infractions. In other words, rather than deport people for truly “deportable/removable offenses,” many could be jailed and deported simply because their encounters with the law are for very minor offenses, such as driving without a license, which illegal immigrants are all but forced to do under most state laws. To learn more about 287(g) and whether DHS has a memorandum of agreement with your city or county, see the specified ICE link.
After reading about this deeply convoluted issue, what do you think? Should illegal immigrants be allowed to get driver’s licenses? Why, or why not?