In most states of the union, undocumented immigrants are not able to obtain a driver’s license. They are, indeed, not supposed to be driving on American highways. However, the reality is that immigrants are here. They work. And not everyone has access to public transportation. Undocumented immigrants will drive, and in Illinois and nine other states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, steps are being taken to regulate it.
There are multiple advantages to accepting the reality of undocumented drivers and reacting accordingly. First, when people obtain driver’s licenses, they are part of the system, so to speak. This means they are being regulated—by the need to purchase auto insurance, and by the need to obey traffic laws. When California initiated its program to grant licenses to the undocumented in 2013, it had the full backing of major insurance players in the state—the requirement to carry insurance makes people more careful on the road, and fewer uninsured and unlicensed drivers means a smaller burden on our already-overworked court system.
In addition, a driver’s license issued by a U.S. state does give law enforcement a window into undocumented communities. If someone is wanted, or there is another legitimate reason to need to locate someone, looking up his or her driving record will give contact information for the person most of the time. Money and time are not wasted trying to hunt down a person who is off the grid.
There are objections to granting driver’s licenses to the undocumented that come from both sides of the aisle. From the left, the point is often made that if undocumented immigrants are given a license that differs in any way from those given to citizens, it will encourage mistreatment and racial profiling. There is some validity to this—the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota collected data that showed immigration arrests increasing after driver’s license issuances. One can infer that law enforcement is reading these licenses and acting accordingly, even if the drivers have done nothing wrong.
There is also significant mistrust in the immigrant community of law enforcement, and many fear deportation. In Illinois, the Chicago Tribune featured the case of a man who applied for a driver’s license and was summarily placed in deportation proceedings, even though it is not the policy of the Temporary Visitor Driver’s License (TVDL) program to alert immigration authorities to anyone’s status.
From the right, the argument is that even the immigrants who obtain driver’s licenses for legal purposes may be targeted by the nefarious. The governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, has gone on record against her state’s driver’s license law (fighting for its repeal five times in four years), arguing that the licenses can and will be used to enable entry without inspection into the country, even if that is not someone’s intention in obtaining the license.
Know Your Rights
If you are in a position of needing a driver’s license, but are afraid of proceedings, it may help to have a professional on your side. The Chicago immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC are well versed in this area of law, and can help guide you through a process that can be difficult and intimidating. Contact our office for a free initial consultation today.
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