DC
05/01/2013 01:00 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2013

D.C. Mayor To Propose Driver's Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

WASHINGTON -- District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray will propose a new bill on Thursday to give driver's licenses or D.C. identification to undocumented immigrants, which would make Washington among a small group of states and localities to do so.

The plan was announced Tuesday evening on the D.C. Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Engagement Facebook page, which said Gray and other leaders will announce the bill at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"This legislation would be a monumental step to protect the civil rights of the many undocumented residents who live and actively contribute to the District of Columbia," the D.C. Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Engagement wrote in its announcement.

Congress would get a chance to review the District of Columbia's bill before it could go into law, meaning even if it passes the city council it may not get the chance to go into effect.

A number of state legislatures have begun to consider -- or already passed -- driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Washington state, Illinois and New Mexico grant driver's licenses for residents regardless of status, while Utah allows for a driving permit that cannot be used for identification in other circumstances.

The Colorado Senate passed a bill last week to permit driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, which is now under consideration in the House. In Connecticut, the House speaker, Senate majority leader, eight mayors and other lawmakers held a press conference on Monday to voice their support for giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) also supports the measure. The Oregon Senate is considering a similar move. And the Maryland General Assembly voted last month to create a second-class driver's license for which undocumented immigrants would be eligible.

Gray's decision comes after a concentrated push by immigrant rights advocates. The D.C. branch of the group DREAM Activist, which is led by undocumented young people, called on its allies last month to contact Gray and voice their support for such a bill.

Lizbeth Mateo, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant and organizer with the group, said they applaud the mayor's decision but are concerned his proposal will be more marked licenses that differentiate unauthorized people from others.

"I'm glad that the mayor is taking leadership on this issue, I think it's been a long time coming," she said. "The DREAM Activist position is that we don't want a marked driver's license campaign or a marked driver's license period. We want something that's going to be the same as everyone else."

The mayor's office declined to comment on whether the licenses will be marked to differentiate them from legal resident and citizen licenses.

Washington has passed other legislation in the past at the urging of immigration groups. The city council unanimously approved a measure last year to restrict the District's participation in Secure Communities, a program in which local law enforcement hold suspected deportable immigrants at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

UPDATE: 5:40 p.m. -- Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) signed into law later Wednesday the state's bill to give undocumented immigrants driver's licenses. "This bill is a part of a larger vision where all Oregonians deserve and get their shot at the American dream," Kitzhaber said at the signing.

UPDATE: May 2, 1:45 p.m. -- The D.C. bill, announced Thursday, would give undocumented immigrants driver's licenses that specifically labeled them as such. Critics of the plan argued that it could lead to racial profiling, and some undocumented immigrants planned to protest the move at the mayor's press conference.

CONVERSATIONS