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Should Illegal Immigrants be Given Driver’s Licenses?

Rewarding Bad Behavior

Numerous states are considering issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants while one state, New Mexico, is struggling to prevent out-of-staters from fraudulently obtaining them.

Until recently, undocumented immigrants were able to obtain driver's licenses or permits only from three states: New Mexico, Washington and Utah. But that number is expected to grow.

A utilitarian analysis of this issue would examine the harms and benefits of granting driver’s licenses to illegals. Those who favor granting driver’s licenses to illegals claim licenses will make streets safer, since the immigrants must take a driving test. Some police agencies say the licenses allow them to keep better track of this population. Immigrant advocates say the licenses give this group needed mobility.

First, there is no evidence to suggest that our streets will be safer by granting the licenses to illegals. Since it has only occurred in three states, the data is just not there to support this assertion. In fact, some might claim the streets will be less safe because illegals drive poorly [another unsubstantiated claim] and will add congestion to the already congested roadways, especially out here in California. Thus, by allowing illegals the privilege of driving with a license, current drivers may be inconvenienced.

It is a privilege to be given a driver’s license not a “right.” There is nothing in the Constitution that supports allowing anyone to drive without meeting certain standards. One reasonable standard is for the driver to be a legal resident if for no other reason than they have earned the privilege by going through the steps to become a legal citizen.

The police claim a benefit is being able to better track the illegal immigrant population. The scary thing about this is the admission illegals are not very well tracked. Who are they? What is their business in the U.S.? Where are they employed? It seems to me a robust E-verify system would accomplish the same end without rewarding illegal behavior.

Finally, immigrant groups claim the licenses give the group needed mobility. "Individuals have to get to jobs and schools," said Melissa Keaney, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.

Once again this is rewarding bad behavior by granting a privilege that has not been earned the way legal citizens have earned it and further clog up our roadways.

The granting of driver’s licenses to illegals is likely to increase in the future. The governor of Illinois signed into law in January a bill that grants licenses to those who lack a Social Security number, while the governors of Maryland and Oregon approved such bills last month. Similar bills sit on the desks of the governors of Colorado, Vermont and Nevada, while a number of other legislatures are considering the move.

There are other potential harms of granting the licenses to illegals in addition to those already addressed.  New Mexico investigators recently busted a Mexican immigrant who tried to obtain a license with the help of a criminal ring. The ring, officials said, used fake New Mexico addresses to create fraudulent documents for out-of-state immigrants, charging $2,500 per license.

State police in April arrested the Mexican immigrant, who lived in Georgia. Authorities canceled 40 licenses the ring had helped secure for 40 other immigrants from Latin America.

In another case, two Central American immigrants were arrested in April for applying for licenses using fake residential leases provided by another criminal group. The immigrants, who had paid $1,500 each for help in securing the licenses, found out about the group's services through an ad in a New York newspaper, according to state investigators.

Demesia Padilla, the cabinet secretary at New Mexico's Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the state's Motor Vehicle Division, says it is costly and time-consuming to perform background checks to ensure applicants live in the state, and complains that the department lacks the resources to do the job.

Some New Mexico lawmakers have launched repeated efforts to repeal the license law, with the support of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. But so far, they have failed.

Padilla said her agency had to open a fourth office in Albuquerque last year to deal with immigrant licenses. Earlier this year, the agency couldn't investigate a potentially fraudulent ring because it already was busy with two others, she said. "We're doing this full time," she said. "There's not ever a slowdown."

In conclusion, this blog is not about whether illegals are sent home because they came here illegally and broke the law. That is a matter for another blog. I am against granting them legal driving privileges because of the potential harms to society not the least of which is fraud in applying for and obtaining the licenses.

One suggestion is to link granting driver’s licenses to a commitment to become a U.S. citizen and follow-up on such requirements. The problem there is it would require an efficient government process of granting the licenses and follow-up to determine if illegals are meeting the requirements to become a legal citizen. Expecting our government to do anything in an efficient manner is a pipe dream that has been disproven over and over again, and that is why we are in the mess we are with illegals.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 5, 2013