Illegal Immigrants Can Get A Driver’s License in Utah, Washington, and New Mexico
Since Arizona passed its laws requiring documentation of legal immigration in order to get work and get a driver’s license, some say that states like Utah, Washington, and New Mexico have created a booming business in issuing illegals drivers’ licenses:
The immigration debate has thrown a spotlight on the license programs, which supporters say make financial sense because unlicensed drivers typically do not carry car insurance. Opponents insist the laws attract illegal immigrants and criminals.
“Washington state and New Mexico have been magnet states for the fraudulent document brokers, human traffickers and alien smugglers for years,” said Brian Zimmer, president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C.
State officials in New Mexico dispute that claim…
…there is mounting evidence that the spike in license applications is a result of pressure on immigrants in states such as Arizona and Oklahoma, where police have been authorized to help enforce federalimmigration laws.
Republican lawmakers in New Mexico and Washington state have pushed to tighten the laws in recent years, only to be thwarted by Democrats. The issue is less heated in Utah, where illegal immigrant licenses carry only driving privileges. People cannot use the IDs to board a plane, get a job or buy alcohol, for example.
New Mexico issued 10,257 licenses to immigrants through the first six months of 2010, compared with 13,481 for all of 2009. The pace has intensified since April, when neighboring Arizona passed its immigration law. The figures include both illegal immigrants and legal residents from outside the U.S.
• New Mexico issued about 417 licenses a week to immigrants from the day after Arizona passed its law through July 1. That is a big jump from the 323 per week it was issuing from Jan. 1 to the day before the law passed.
• Utah handed out 41,000 illegal immigrant licenses for 2010 through June 7, compared with 43,429 for all of 2008. Utah did not provide data for 2009.
• Washington granted 3,200 licenses to people from outside the U.S. through June, exceeding the pace of 5,992 for all of 2009…
The AP analysis of data in the three states revealed some striking numbers: The rate of licenses issued to immigrants during the 10 weeks that followed approval of the Arizona law reflected a 60 percent increase over the annual average for last year.
By comparison, the rate of licenses issued to non-immigrants during the same period increased only modestly.
So how does one get a license when in the country illegally? In states where obtaining a driver’s license is legal even if you’re illegal, there is no hard data on what form of i.d. must be shown to obtain a license. Does a Mexican i.d. card count?
New Mexico, Motor Vehicle Division Director Michael Sandoval cautioned that it’s impossible to identify any specific cause-and-effect linking the Arizona law to illegal immigrants relocating in New Mexico because of the way the licenses are issued.
As a result, there’s no way to distinguish between a license issued to a Swiss chemist employed with a visa at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a license assigned to a Mexican laborer in the U.S. illegally.
Washington state immigrant advocate David Ayala said it’s better for drivers to have licenses, especially from a public safety standpoint.
“The people who are driving in the streets need to be tested that they have the knowledge and ability to be on the highway,” said Ayala, organizing director of a group called OneAmerica.
People with licenses, he added, “have a more normal life. They can cash a check. They can rent an apartment. They can have insurance for the car.”
“A normal life” in America illegally is something that many Americans directly dispute. What’s so normal about breaking federal laws? But, according to immigration advocates, the testing for driving ability is a strong indicator of protecting public safety. The problem is that a driver’s license isn’t used just to determine the simple physical ability to drive, it’s being used to skirt federal laws on immigration.