Should States Grant Driver’s Licenses to People with No Legal Status?


On March 20, 2019, a new bill was presented in Florida that would allow wider permissions for driving, including issuing driver’s licenses for people with no legal status in the Sunshine State. If the bill is successful it could see undocumented drivers granted legal licenses as soon as the first of July. Backed by State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, proponents of the bill cite an increase in road safety, as has been documented in the 12 states which already use such a system. Would granting driver’s licenses to those who are undocumented increase safety and benefit the state? Or are there pitfalls that would hurt the public overall? Let’s review…


So where one state might allow a person of no status to apply for their driving license, the state next door may not. The fact that the regulations vary from state to state is a true reflection of how heated the debate on granting licenses to the undocumented really is. While supporters cite better road safety as a main argument in their case, opponents of the bill—termed AB60—which would see immigrants without status allowed to apply for and obtain driving licenses, cite national security and adherence to the letter of the law as the main reasons for their position.


So What Are The Benefits?  While everyone else was arguing, a team of scientists conducted a study into the comparison of traffic statistics in the states that did, and the states that didn’t, allow immigrants to apply for their driving license. While the opposition hoped that the study would prove the fallacy of these states, it did the opposite. States that allow immigrants with no status to drive legally have almost indistinguishable differences in traffic-related incidents – but they differ hugely in the number of hit and run accidents. The study showed that since immigrants were not scared of deportation, they were much more likely to own up to car crimes. It had an added benefit of familiarizing the road users with American road traffic wordings and signage, which they might not otherwise have had. The study also proved that immigrants would go through the same avenues to acquire legal insurances and licenses as citizens did… a point much contested by the opposition.


There are also economics to consider. An undocumented immigrant who has a driving license can walk into an auto shop and pick out a car. They can legally operate taxi’s, find better work, and make a larger financial contribution to whichever state they live. There is also the matter of license application fees which accumulate quickly. When considering car maintenance, fuel costs and all the other insurances and payments a person makes to keep a car on the road, it can be safely assumed that allowing undocumented people the use of a driving license would have a positive impact on the local economy.


What about the Pitfalls? It isn’t all flowers and sunshine. The study (which can be read in full here, courtesy of the Semantic Scholar) also highlighted a few issues in the system. The biggest issue is that after 9/11 a federal law was passed that made all immigrants forced to have valid status in order to acquire official documentation like a license. The provision of licenses is being negotiated in some states with extensions. This can’t last forever, but the opposition believes it means the law is being undermined in the meantime. There are also pitfalls for the people applying for these licenses in certain areas. For example, Washington state will allow an out-of-status immigrant to apply for a driving license, but if s/he do not meet their requirements, hold any former criminal convictions, have been previously deported or use any false evidence there is a high chance his/her application will result in deportation. Their system is stricter and requires much more documentation than the twelve states that grant licenses outright.


As long as immigrants are scared of deportation, they have a deterrent which prevents them from legally applying to drive. This makes the roads less safe for everyone and makes the opposition’s argument of undocumented people being unable to read the road signs true. If there are people on the roads who don’t read English signage, then the public has a big issue. Unfortunately, not providing them with licenses does nothing to solve this issue and does quite a lot to make it worse. In passing the driving test, undocumented immigrants are forced to show that at a minimum they understand the US signage and can act appropriately on the road.


These are the states that are either trialing new laws in the area or who are already granting licenses to immigrants with no citizenship status: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont. All of these states either allow a driving license or some other type of driving permit.


The State of New York has also been tossing a bill back and forth since 2017 that would allow for similar ramifications as those present in the other twelve states. Generally, these bills focus on expanding the range of acceptable documents in terms of proving identity. Due to Democrats backing the bill and Republicans doing the opposite, a bit of political tennis is going on. What we know is that the introduction of a similar ruling would gain the state an estimated $9.6 million in license fees and increase auto sales by around 2.7%.


What DO YOU Think? Everyone has an opinion, right? So, what do you think? Let us know your opinion on granting licenses to people of no status by replying!

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