States take up driving privileges for illegal immigrants

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/18/2012

States across the country are expected to take up for consideration in the months ahead efforts to legalize driving for illegal immigrants.

Only New Mexico and Washington now provide special driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. In Utah, illegal immigrants can obtain privilege cards to drive. The documents cannot be used as identification.

However, those numbers could change early next year in states that include Illinois, Nevada, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Illinois law now requires people to show proof of citizenship to obtain driver’s licenses. The program allows for temporary licenses for foreign visitors in the country legally.

The Illinois Senate recently showed support for a bill to change licensing rules to allow illegal immigrants to obtain special driver’s licenses.

Backed by some influential Illinois politicians, the initiative to allow an estimated 250,000 illegal immigrant motorists in Illinois to get tested for driving privileges and buy insurance without facing deportation received a recent push that is expected to be continued after the first of the year.

The three-year license would be distinct from a regular driver’s license and would not be valid for identification purposes other than driving or buying auto insurance. It would be identical to licenses made available for legal immigrants.

A similar effort is underway in Nevada to provide driving privileges for illegal immigrants.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, has filed legislation for consideration during the session that begins in February to allow affected drivers to drive legally.

Changes to the licensing policy are also being discussed in Vermont. A special legislative panel researching the issue is expected to advocate a change to the state’s rules.

Specifically, they are expected to endorse providing standard licenses to immigrant farmworkers in the country illegally. The change is expected to affect about 1,500 farmworkers in the state.

In nearby Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently promised supporters that he is considering making driver’s licenses available for undocumented, illegal residents.

Opponents say the driving cards would “reward” people for disobeying immigration rules. They also say that having a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right.

In Illinois, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said that states need to act to improve safety on roadways. She referred to an estimated $64 million in damage claims attributed to illegal immigrant drivers in Illinois each year.

“The fact of the matter is we have a problem in this country. The federal government has not addressed the issue of undocumented immigrants,” Radogno said at a recent press conference. “So we have to tackle this problem.”

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