Friday, February 24, 2006

States grapple with driver’s licenses for immigrants

This week three states are looking into the issue of how to deal with the problem of issuing drivers licenses to those immigrants without documentation. New Jersey, Tennessee and Maryland are all dealing with bills addressing the situation, albeit from differing perspectives and ultimate outcomes.

Currently 11 states allow for some provision for those without documentation of legal residency to obtain some sort of a driver’s license of permit. But it looks like that’s about to change. While New Jersey is looking to eases restrictions, Maryland lawmakers want to stop the practice and Tennessee has suspended their program after five years.

more below the fold

New Jersey

Two state assemblymen have partnered to offer legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain special driving certificates in an effort to tackle rising concern about unlicensed, uninsured motorists on New Jersey's roadways.

Undocumented immigrants and others who aren't able to meet the state's enhanced identification requirements are currently barred from obtaining driver's licenses. Some officials say that forces the immigrants to sidestep the law and take to the road without insurance or basic safety instruction in order to get to work.

“We have a growing population of people who are basically just trying to go to work and trying to do their jobs that employers are clamoring for and they have to circumvent the laws,” said Assemblyman Douglas C. Fisher, D-Salem,Gloucester, Cumberland, who said he began to study the issue more than two years ago. “This will just allow people to drive.”

Fisher voluntarily withdrew a similar bill last year after deciding it needed to be reworked.

Now, the Bridgeton assemblyman plans to re-introduce provisions of his original bill aimed at increasing enforcement of insurance regulations while lending his support to a separate driving privilege card bill advanced Wednesday by Assemblyman Joseph Vas, D-Middlesex.

The driving privilege card — which would expire annually — would allow undocumented aliens to drive, and more importantly, purchase insurance and register their cars provided they complete the same safety program as licensed drivers. But the cards, which would bear special markings, would not be acceptable for use as identification, addressing homeland security concerns.


For the past three years, Maryland lawmakers have debated bills that would prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses. Each time, the measures have failed.
Yesterday, legislators took up the issue again, with what some called a renewed urgency to meet an impending federal requirement.

Del. Herbert H. McMillan, an Anne Arundel County Republican and sponsor of the bill, said that the state should restrict licenses to illegal immigrants because a federal law would require Maryland to revise its drivers license statute by 2008.

McMillan said his bill is essential for security reasons.


The federal law, known as the Real ID Act, requires states to overhaul the way they administer driver's licenses. It requires additional security procedures and prohibits illegal immigrants from obtaining standard licenses.

But the law allows states to decide for themselves whether to issue driving certificates to temporary workers and people with pending immigration cases.

Advocates for immigrants turned out in force yesterday to show their concern for the proposed state legislation, which they said would prevent the state from devising a compromise such as a two-tier system -- standard licenses for citizens and temporary permits for some immigrants.

Scores of supporters seated in an auditorium wore yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Immigrants build this country," as immigrant advocates told the House Judiciary Committee that passing the bill would be premature.

They said soon-to-be-published federal guidelines will help states administer the changes and that preventing immigrants from driving now would only create headaches for undocumented workers.


Tennessee stopped issuing driving certificates to illegal immigrants Friday after investigations found they were being shuttled from other states, using fake residency papers and sometimes bribing state workers to get the cards.

Safety Commissioner Jerry Nicely said the program was being suspended while his department and state investigators reassess it "to ensure we're doing what's best for Tennesseans."

"This program was a good idea in theory, but there have been issues with implementation," Nicely said.

The certificates, which are stamped "not valid for identification," were meant to improve driving safety by making sure immigrants living in the state knew traffic rules. Recent federal investigations found that illegal immigrants were traveling hundreds of miles from other states to get the certificates illegally.


In early 2001, the state started issuing full driver's licenses without requiring a Social Security number, and more than 180,000 people obtained licenses. The driving certificates were created in 2004 to satisfy homeland security concerns; about 51,000 were issued.

Applicants are now required to provide two documents, such as a utility bill or lease, to show they live in Tennessee, along with a Social Security number or a sworn affidavit if there is none. They also must pass an eye exam, a driving rules test and a road test.

Nicely said the department was flooded with certificate requests, and employees were overwhelmed trying to determine which documents were acceptable to show residency

Like everything else involved in the immigration issue, the drivers license problem is one that has no quick fix given the current immigration policies in this country. Until a we have a national policy that comes to grips with the realities of immigration and a practical, humane and most importantly, realistic program to allow people to enter this country legally is formulated, the sates will continue to be the ones to argue out this most complex issue. And that’s not exactly a winning plan for anyone concerned.


XicanoPwr said...

One thing these people forget, atleast it happens here in Houston, a large majority of the undocumented already drive without a license. Not only that, now how are you going find them if there aren't any listed addresses.

Duke1676 said...

Welcome XicanoPwr,

I saw your Blog ... it looks great, and thanks for the story Manny x-posted here.. great work.

Your right about people driving without licenses, and under the present conditions why would anyone do any differently... no one wants to be put "into the system" when it's so disfunctional.