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Obtaining A Driver Card For Undocumented Immigrants

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Day after day in the United States millions of people drive their vehicles to work, take their children to school, shop for household essentials, and go to doctor appointments. What many people don’t realize is the number of people who are on the roads without driver licenses. A portion of people can’t get driver license because they choose not to pay the fee or they cannot get their driver license because of prior traffic offenses or other criminal activities. However, there are many people that want to get their driver license, are willing to pay the fees, and participate in driver education classes but cannot because of their undocumented status in the United States. In many communities in the United States it is difficult to accomplish day-to-day activities without a vehicle. Immigrants have jobs and families that make driving a necessity in order to survive in this country. Some communities don’t have public transportation, and in those that do it can be time consuming to ride or the routes don’t go near the destinations of the person. One solution to this problem would be to allow undocumented immigrants to receive what is often called a driver card or driver permit. The driver card is available in 12 other states and the District of Columbia. In Wisconsin, there is current legislation proposing the use of a driver card for undocumented immigrants. While there are arguments both for and against the use of a driver card in Wisconsin, the arguments for its use are more rooted in fact and should be given more merit.

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Immigration is a current hot topic issue in the United States, and it has been for many years. There are millions of people in the United States who have come here without authorization. They work, build families, pay taxes, and contribute to society without many people knowing they are an undocumented immigrant. Many go unnoticed for several years because they maintain a low profile to not attract attention from law enforcement or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The main efforts of ICE focus on arresting undocumented immigrants who have committed felony offenses. This leaves many people peacefully building a life in the United States, even though they do not have proper documentation to be staying here.

The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001 changed much in this country, from airplane travel to war in the Middle East. They also affected people in the United States on a smaller, yet still significant, scale. Specifically, they affected people’s ability to obtain a driver’s license with only the proper identification from their native country. Congress enacted “REAL ID in 2005 creating standards for state-issued driver’s licenses, including evidence of lawful status” (Mendoza). Many people were left without the ability to legally drive their cars as they had for many years before. People were left unable to legally get to work, take their children to daycare, or get to doctor appointments in a timely manner. Even those who already had a valid driver’s license could no longer renew even though they were willing to pay the fees, maintained a good driving record, and held insurance within the guidelines of this current legislation.

So far, several states have done so. The following states have changed their laws and implemented driver cards for immigrants: New Mexico, Utah, Illinois, Nevada, Maryland, Vermont, District of Colombia, Colorado, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, and Hawaii (ProCon.org). Each state has their own caveats as to how their programs work. For example, “…Delaware requires that the applicant has filed a Delaware income tax return or resided in Delaware and has been claimed as dependent by an individual who has filed a state income tax return for the preceding two years”. Only half of the states and the District of Columbia require legal residency in order to issue a driver card. The State of Illinois allows “a temporary visitor’s driver’s license” to an individual who has resided in Illinois for a specified time but is ineligible to obtain a Social Security number…” Some states also have protections for undocumented immigrants applying for a driver card. For example, Nevada “… prohibits the release of information relating to legal status for purposes relating to the enforcement of immigration laws.” The states have the ability to tailor the limitations and privileges of the driver card to what they desire. There is a limitation on the use of the driver card outside of providing legal driving status as set by the federal government; however, the requirements for a person to be eligible is determined on the state level.

Currently, in the state of Wisconsin, there is no method available for undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver card. Legislation proposed in 2015 called for the creation of driver cards for undocumented immigrants; this bill failed to pass in 2017 (Schneider). The driver card issue is not new to the state of Wisconsin, and has been raised in the Wisconsin legislature many times over the past years. Opposition to such legislation tends to come from the Republican Party, who suggest that the cards will be used by undocumented immigrants to vote in elections. Proponents of the bill plan to revise and reintroduce it, with the cards distinctly labeled as “not valid for voting,” which they hope will reduce opposition from other policymakers. This bill may actually have social and economic benefits for the state of Wisconsin.

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