Undocumented and Driving: A Debate of Citizenship and Privileges

TXDS 1-11-14It’s been all over the news lately – undocumented immigrants are signing up to take their driving tests and many states are starting to issue licenses without proof of citizenship. Illegal immigration is a hot-button issue in the United States, so it’s no surprise that it has become connected to the privilege of driving. It has been estimated that approximately 12 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, many of which drive without a proper license or formal instruction.

Read on to learn about some of the pros and cons of granting drivers licenses for illegal immigrants and what’s going on in a few states around the country.

The Pros

People who favor granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants often cite the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which holds that states must provide equal protection to all people who live in their jurisdictions – not just citizens. Many people feel that by offering licenses to these people that it will make roads safer. This way, immigrants can properly learn traffic safety laws and be required to take a written test and a behind-the-wheel test like citizens do. Other proponents of the law say that offering licenses will improve national security and help the economy.

The Cons

People who oppose offering licenses to illegal immigrants say that such an act would provide legal status to individuals who have knowingly broken U.S. laws. Immigration laws are thereby undermined and more power is then given to illegal immigrants holding licenses.  People on this side of the debate say that providing licenses to immigrants will not make the roads safer and that it is actually a national security threat. Finally, providing millions of additional licenses could increase governmental and administrative costs associated with teaching, documenting and licensing these new drivers.

The California Situation

Under a new law, California will issue over a million driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The DMB in California hired around 900 new employees and opened more offices around the state to accommodate the new drivers. These new prospective drivers will be required to take a written and a vision test before getting their learner’s permit and then a behind-the-wheel test.

The Oregon Situation

Voters in Oregon rejected a law that state lawmakers passed in April 2014 that allowed illegal immigrants to get their licenses – by a margin of 68 percent to 33 percent. This law allowed illegal immigrants to obtain licenses with no proof of citizenship.

“States really have to decide if they’re on the side of law-abiding immigrants or whether they want to encourage more illegal immigration to their jurisdiction,” said Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.

The Connecticut Situation

Connecticut is another state that recently passed a law allowing undocumented residents to take driver’s license tests. In early December, almost 5,400 undocumented residents in the state made appointments to take written tests at local DMVs.

“It’s going to bring more vehicles into compliance that are being driven out there,” DMV spokesman Bill Seymour said Tuesday. “It has an effect on folks who have an accident or a crash and find that the vehicle involved wasn’t insured (by leslie). It helps keeps everybody safe on the roads.”

A National Issue

There are many U.S. states that don’t currently require drivers to prove their citizenship status to obtain a license. These states include Maine, Michigan, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington. However, other states continue to vote in opposition to such allowances. It seems that the debate is just heating up, and we’ll be watching to see how it all unfolds in the years ahead.


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