D.C. Follows 11 Other States Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Drive Legally

Written by on November 19, 2013 in Integration, State and Local with 3 Comments

2453882798_0385917db1_oAs House leaders delay on passing immigration reform that would help millions of immigrants already in the U.S., Washington, D.C., officials are taking steps to improve the lives of undocumented immigrants who call the city home. Last week the D.C. Council passed a bill, written by Council member Mary Cheh, which allows undocumented residents to apply for Driver’s Licenses. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed the bill yesterday. The new policy, which goes into effect May 1, sets up a system where undocumented immigrants will receive licenses that are the same but for their being marked “not valid for official federal purposes.” Driver’s licenses for legal residents and citizens will not change.

The D.C. City Council initially approved a measure that did not distinguish between the two types of licenses. But council member Mary Cheh, who chairs the transportation committee, told the Washington Post that she did not see an alternative to t the addition of the language “not for official federal purposes” after meeting with Department of Homeland Security officials about enforcement of the REAL ID Act. Under the eight-year-old law, residents in states that do not comply with the act could be prevented from using their licenses as identification to enter federal buildings or board commercial flights. Cheh is working to keep the license marking unobtrusive, according to the Washington Post:

Cheh said she is still pursuing the most “benign” way to comply with the law, putting the “not valid” lettering, for example, in the “smallest font” possible on the license, and ensuring that the data held by the District’s motor vehicle department that could identify non-citizens would be kept confidential.

Regardless of whether the licenses are marked, issuing them for residents who are in the country illegally is the right thing to do, she said.

“It’s a question of safety,” Cheh said. “Those without documentation are driving anyway. They are not taking a test. They are not passing a test. And if they buy a car, they are not purchasing insurance.”

Outside of D.C., 11 states and Puerto Rico allow people to apply for driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. Last week, Illinois began implementing its law to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants living in the state if they meet conditions like purchasing insurance. State officials expect up to half a million people to eventually apply for the ability to drive legally in Illinois, and the state attorney general’s office warned residents to be aware of scams related to the rollout of the Temporary Visitor’s Driver’s License (TVDL) program. “The only legitimate place you can apply for a temporary driver’s license is with the Secretary of State’s office,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

The demand for the licenses is so high in Illinois, that long lines are frustrating those who want to submit applications. The first 90 days’ worth of appointments were filled by 3 p.m. on Nov. 12, the day Illinois’ driver’s license policy went into effect. Lorena Marquez said she likely would have to wait until the spring for her appointment. “I’m very frustrated,” she told the Chicago Tribune in Spanish. “Now I still can’t drive my kids to the doctor or to school without fear.”

It is good for public safety to allow undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. to be licensed drivers and fully participate in their local communities. States and cities are leading the way by passing commonsense, pro-immigration measures that allow immigrants already here and contributing to have the opportunity to move forward productively with their lives.

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  • Gabriela Kandziora

    Hi, I just wanted to make reference to the title of this article…the use of “other” is incorrect. Washington D.C. is NOT a state or a city, so using “other” implies that it is. Correct way to write it would have been:

    D.C. Follows 11 States Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Drive Legally

    And, actually, you should not really use numbers in titles of articles but I think that might be changing. Thank you for your article. Warmly, Gabriela

  • Gabriela Kandziora

    Actually when referring to D.C. in your article, you should use “Federal District” or “District”…it is not a state or a city. Many…maybe most Americans do not understand this. It would be helpful to have writers such as yourself, make sure that people learn and understand the difference. Thank you again.

  • Jerry Mcardle

    Dear Mr. Obama:
    I’m planning to move my family and extended family into Mexico for my health, and I would like to ask you to assist me.
    We’re planning to simply walk across the border from the U.S. into Mexico, and we’ll need your help to make a few arrangements.
    We plan to skip all the legal stuff like visas, passports, immigration quotas and laws.
    I’m sure they handle those things the same way you do here. So, would you mind telling your buddy, the President of Mexico , that I’m on my way over?
    Please let him know that I will be expecting the following:
    1. Free medical care for my entire family.
    2. English-speaking Government bureaucrats for all services I might need, whether I use them or not.
    3. Please print all Mexican Government forms in English.
    4. I want my grandkids to be taught Spanish by English-speaking (bi-lingual) teachers.
    5. Tell their schools they need to include classes on American culture and history.
    6. I want my grandkids to see the American flag on one of the flag poles at their school.
    7. Please plan to feed my grandkids at school for both breakfast and lunch.
    8. I will need a local Mexican driver’s license so I can get easy access to government services.
    9. I do plan to get a car and drive in Mexico, but I don’t plan to purchase car insurance, and I probably won’t make any special effort to learn local traffic laws.
    10. In case one of the Mexican police officers does not get the memo from their president to leave me alone, please be sure that every patrol car has at least one English-speaking officer.
    11. I plan to fly the U.S. flag from my housetop, put U.S. flag decals on my car, and have a gigantic celebration on July 4th. I do not want any complaints or negative comments from the locals.
    12. I would also like to have a nice job without paying any taxes, or have any labor or tax laws enforced on any business I may start.
    13. Please have the president tell all the Mexican people to be extremely nice and never say critical things about me or my family, or about the strain we might place on their economy.
    14. I want to receive free food stamps.
    15. Naturally, I’ll expect free rent subsidies.
    16. I’ll need income tax credits so that although I don’t pay Mexican taxes, I’ll receive money from the government.
    17. Please arrange it so that the Mexican Government pays $4,500.00 to help me buy a new car.
    18. Oh yes, I almost forgot, please enroll me free into the Mexican Social Security program so that I’ll get a monthly income in retirement.
    I know this is an easy request because you already do all these things for all of his people who walk over to the U.S. from Mexico. I am sure that the President of Mexico won’t mind returning the favor if you ask him nicely.

    Do you see how stupid this looks when you put it in writing???