According to the New York Times, there are around 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, many of them driving — regardless of whether or not they are licensed. Which is a somewhat scary situation facing the rest of us out on the roads.
In response, a growing number of states (including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington) have begun to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. According to the Seattle Times, as of last year all but two states — Arizona and Nebraska — had altered their laws to at least allow immigrants brought here as children to obtain driver’s licenses.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., told Andrea Billups of NewsMax, “It doesn’t given them any legal status, but by giving them a government-issued ID, it helps them imbed in society.”
As for the rest of the states who haven’t given driver’s license privileges to undocumented people yet, it might make financial sense to do so. According to Hispanically Speaking News, when the Massachusetts legislature was debating this idea in March, the head of the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles, Celia Blue, said licensing undocumented drivers “would generate nearly $15 million in state revenue through license fees and other charges, plus $7.5 million in renewal fees every five years.” Massachusetts state senator Joseph Vital said, “This isn’t to excuse the fact that they’re undocumented. But they’re on the roads. They’re driving. Many uninsured.”
When Colorado passed a law allowing for the licensing of undocumented immigrants last June, the bill’s sponsor, state Senator Jessie Ulibarri, said that law enforcement supported the legislation, according to Reuters. “Our roads will be safer when we can properly identify everyone who drives on them. We estimate that thousands more Colorado drivers will get insured because of this law.”
Sarah E. Hendricks of Drake University wrote in her April report “Living in Car Culture Without a License: The Ripple Effects of Withholding Driver’s Licenses from Unauthorized Immigrants,” published by the Immigration Policy Center, “States that do not offer driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants will limit the contributions that immigrant communities as a whole can potentially make, are likely to face negative economic and public safety consequences, and tend to fail in attempts to use such restrictive state-level policies to reduce the presence of unauthorized immigrants.”