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DC Driver's Licenses for the Undocumented Population

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At the beginning of May 2013, DC Mayor Vincent Gray hosted a press conference at the Wilson Building, where he announced his proposal to introduce legislation to grant undocumented residents of the District of Columbia driver's licenses. While the legislation was not available at the time of his announcement, his intention to create a "marked" license was clear and understood by all that were present in a packed room at the Wilson Building. A broad coalition of supporters attended the press conference onference, spoke and praised the mayor's initiative.

The undocumented population that hits DC's roads is estimated to be around 15,000.

The subject of providing driver's licenses to undocumented DC residents is an old topic that has been discussed at length in the immigrant community outside of the DC City Council and the Executive Branch. Around 2008, than Executive Director of CARECEN, Saul Solórzano, led round table discussions on the topic at community meetings. The DC Latino Caucus also had a series of discussions on the topic. These community discussions never moved far because of the community's limitation to move legislation on the City Council.

A few years back many in the community were shocked when Councilmembers Graham and Mendelson proposed legislation to what looked like an intention to entitle every DC resident to a driver's license on the technicality that a social security number not be required to obtain a driver's license in the District of Columbia. This proposal stalled on the Council and never moved beyond a Committee.

The DC Latino Caucus, CARECEN and others held discussions on this proposed Bill and determined that even if the Graham-Mendelson Bill became law, other parts of the DMV requirements to issue driver's license had to change, to make undocumented residents eligible to obtain a DC driver's license. This was determined after discussions with the Director of the DC Department of Motor Vehicle.

Currently the DC City Council has at least two proposed legislation to address issuing driver's licenses to undocumented residents in the District of Columbia. Bill 20-61 "Non-Driver's Identification Card/Driver's License Amendment Act of 2013," introduced on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 by Councilmembers Mendelson and Graham. And Bill 20-275 "District of Columbia Drivers Safety Amendment Act of 2013," proposed by DC Mayor Vincent Gray, and introduced by DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson on Thursday, May 02, 2013.

The Mayor's proposed bill, B20-275, received the support of all thirteen members of the DC Council, but a final vote to pass the bill never took place and the Bill was tabled on October 15, 2013. Instead the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, Chaired by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, held community hearings on Bill 20-61. A final vote is scheduled for November 5, 2013.

There seems to be some confusion with the type of driver's license that ultimately would be approved for undocumented drivers in the District of Columbia.

In an effort to improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents by the Federal government, a program called REAL ID was introduced to set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses. All states must comply with the guidelines established by this program for issuing ID and driver's licenses or they risk that their state documents will not be recognized by the Federal government for three main purposes: Accessing federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and boarding federally-regulated commercial aircraft.

Any state that issues driver's licenses to undocumented state residents must have those licenses "marked," or they will not be in compliance with the REAL ID program. As of September 1, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has determined that the following states have met the requirements under REAL ID: AL, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, IN, KS, MD, NE, OH, SD, TN, UT, VT, WI, WV, WY.

Because of REAL ID, all states that are issuing driver's licenses to undocumented residents are now "marked," or are different than licenses issued to the general state population.

As of October 2013, these states have laws that issue some form of driving privilege to its undocumented population: Connecticut, Maryland, Utah, California, North Carolina, Illinois, Oregon, Colorado, Rhode Island, Nevada, Washington State, and New Mexico. All these states, except for New Mexico, have a "marked," or different license for the undocumented population.

On November 5th, 2013 most expect the DC Council to approve a bill that will grant driver's licenses to undocumented DC residents. The initial report is that the license will be "marked." Many believe this is a good start for a long waited solution to the plight of thousands that risk driving without a license every day in the District of Columbia.