Missouri, other states wrestle with driving privileges for illegal immigrants

| 12/7/2007

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has said he wants to crackdown on illegal immigration by barring people who are in the state illegally from obtaining driver’s licenses.

Blunt said Missouri already has protections in place to prevent illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses, but there isn’t a specific law forbidding it.

State law now allows people who are not U.S. citizens to obtain Missouri driver’s licenses by showing a federal form validating their lawful presence. Their status then is confirmed through a federal database, The Associated Press reported.

The legislation that is expected to be introduced in the regular legislative session that begins Jan. 9, 2008, also would prohibit people from helping illegal immigrants obtain driver’s licenses.

Penalties for violating the proposed rules have not been set.

The protective steps being taken in Missouri follow a proposal in New York where Gov. Eliot Spitzer called for giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. After several weeks of wrangling with state lawmakers about his plan, he ended up withdrawing it.

Blunt said he was opposed to Spitzer’s plan. He also said it would not work in Missouri.

“Under my plan, people who are here illegally will not get a driver’s license. And if anyone tries to help them get one, they will be prosecuted, and punished,” Blunt said in a written statement.

Even though the trend among states is to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driving privileges, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has something else in mind.

Kulongoski is calling for limiting the issuance of driver’s licenses only to people who can prove they are in the state legally. At the same time, he wants to allow illegal immigrants the ability to have driving privileges.

The license for those who provide proof of “legal presence” would be valid at airports, banks and other locations that require identification. Individuals who cannot provide proof of their legal presence could use the other license only for driving. It would be stamped “not for identification.”

The licensing of drivers in Oregon is expected to be a topic for consideration during a special session in February 2008. The Oregon Legislature doesn’t meet in regular session until 2009.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor