More states tackle driver’s card dilemma

Article author: 
Carol McAlice Currie
Article publisher: 
Statesman Journal
Article date: 
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

A new study out Tuesday, Aug. 18, shows that the number of individual states bypassing thorny federal immigration issues and instead finding practical ways to deal with driving privileges for unauthorized immigrants is growing.

The PEW Charitable Trusts report, called “Deciding Who Drives; State choices surrounding unauthorized immigrants and driver’s licenses,” released Tuesday, said 10 states and the District of Columbia passed driver’s license laws for non-citizens in 2013. It had been 11 states until Oregon’s law was repealed by ballot measure last fall.

Two more states, Delaware and Hawaii, passed laws this year granting driver identification to unauthorized immigrants. And four more, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Mexico and Texas, have bills in front of legislative committees.

“So you can see, this issue exemplifies immigration federalism,” said Adam Hunter, a director at the PEW Charitable Trusts whose team put the report together. “All states are grappling with immigration. We have large states, small states and states across the political spectrum that don’t want to address immigration reform, but do want to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005.”

The act, a voluntary measure for states, sets minimum standards for driver’s licenses on issues such as security features for federal identification. States that issue separate driver’s cards for unauthorized immigrants are required to give them distinctive markings and text that says “not valid for federal identification.”

States such as Washington avoided some of the anticipated problems of having two separate sets of driver’s ID by issuing unauthorized immigrants the same driver’s license as it issues to other residents. Hunter said this proviso means Washington is not in compliance with the voluntary federal law.

“These licenses don’t grant or change anyone’s immigration status,” Hunter said. “Immigration has always been thought of as a federal-level prerogative. This report shows that it is an issue of a growing number of states legislating on matters of importance to their immigrant populations. They’re applying practical solutions on local matters.”

Hunter said it was too early to know whether states who’ve adopted local driver’s license laws have seen an increase or decrease in unauthorized-immigrant population growth, because many of the new laws had only been implemented this year.

Cynthia Kendoll, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, the grassroots organization that helped overturn Oregon’s driver’s card law last year, said she’d be more likely to read a PEW report that examined the number of states trying to repeal their laws versus those trying to implement one.

“I don’t expect it’ll (issuing driver’s cards for unauthorized immigrants) come up next session,” Kendoll said. “But then you never know what the Legislature is going to do. I would hope they’d listen to what the people, their constituents, want. And I think that 66 percent of Oregonians (the percentage who voted to repeal the law last November) is a pretty good indication of what the people of Oregon want.”

Driver cards rejected by wide margin