While in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants continues to be a hot issue, particularly in states like Texas, state legislatures across the country are now dealing with a new immigration related issue -- driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Proposals that allow undocumented immigrants to gain access to driving privileges are not new. A number of states, Puerto Rico included, already offer driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. But this year, a new push across a variety of states has put the issue back on the table.
Nebraska is currently the only state that bars Deferred Action (DACA) recipients from applying for driver's licenses. Currently, 270,000 undocumented immigrants are exposed to driving infractions for driving without a license, despite being shielded from deportation by DACA. The issue is currently headed to the courtroom, where the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Attorney general over the issue:
In a case that pits the American Civil Liberties Union against Nebraska's attorney general, most testimony will be submitted in depositions. The trial should conclude in a day.
Nonetheless, the judge's ruling in coming months could have a dramatic impact on the lives of 2,700 or more young immigrants in Nebraska brought to the country illegally when they were children.
Of course, this is just one of the chapters in this saga. A bill in the Nebraska legislature is currently making its way through, and not only does it count with bipartisan support, but it is also backed by livestock organizations and Omaha's Republican Mayor Jean Stothert:
The support I have given this legislative bill is simply to allow a drivers license. Not citizenship. Not the right to vote. In the state of Nebraska, it's a little over 2,000 people it would effect. I think it would be a positive thing for our state. And I think it would be a positive thing for Omaha.
Not unlike Arizona, where DACA beneficiaries were barred from obtaining driver's licenses until late last year due to an executive order issued by Former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Nebraska's Governor Pete Rickett's opposes the state legislature's efforts on undocumented driver's licenses.
State legislatures in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and New Mexico have also been involved on the issue.
Florida's SB300, a bill with bipartisan support that would provide driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants across the state, was a nonstarter during this year's legislative session. Despite the lack of support for the measure, Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez tried to add language that would have a similar impact as an amendment to a driver's license bill for veterans. The amendment failed, leaving undocumented Floridians without driver's licenses once again.
In North Carolina, House Bill 328 continues to make its way through the legislature. The proposal includes language that would grant restricted driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants within the state, along with other provisions:
[HB328] would make people in the country eligible to obtain a one-year driver's that would bear distinctive formatting, and would make it a felony to have, make, or sell false documents, and a misdemeanor in cases of people under 21 attempting to buy alcohol or people under 18 attempting to buy cigarettes. And it would make it more difficult for judges to release people in the country illegally who are suspected of a sex offense, a violent felony, or driving, drug or gang offenses.
The main sponsor of the measure, Republican Representative Harry Warren, has stated that his proposal deals with public safety and not immigration reform.
Meanwhile, the state of Georgia, to much surprise, was able to defeat an amendment that would have barred DACA beneficiaries from obtaining driver's licenses:
With a 27-16 vote, the Georgia Senate defeated a Republican floor amendment that aimed to extend an active ban on driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants to those who have received "deferred action" on their status in the country
The bipartisan opposition to the amendment revived some of the arguments regarding instate tuition for undocumented students. Georgia is one of two states in the nation that bans undocumented students from enrolling in public state colleges or universities. Speaking in opposition to the amendment, Republican Senator Tommie Williams tied both issues together:
These kids that were brought here not on their own accord are out there working or going to school, so this bill says 'We know you're going to be here, and we know you're working and going to school, but we're going to take away your driver's license so you can't go to work or go to school,'" Williams said. "Where is the common sense in that?
In the state of New Jersey, where 464,000 of New Jersey's estimated 525,000 undocumented immigrants, a resolution calling on the City of Trenton to grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants was passed unanimously last week. While push for a statewide policy continues, recent comments by Governor Chris Christie have made it clear that such a proposal would be dead on arrival: "'I'm not giving driver's licenses to people who are undocumented. That's it,' Christie said flatly, speaking on his monthly radio show on New Jersey 101.5."
All of this activity around driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants comes as presidential candidates continue to walk a fine line on immigration.
While Republicans seeking the nomination of their party have yet to be vocal on this specific subject, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has made her position clear.
According to the Washington Post:
"Hillary supports state policies to provide drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. This is consistent with her support for the president's executive action."
Undocumented immigrants recognize the value and significance of these small pieces of plastic. Issues surrounding immigration policy are varied, and they manifest themselves in the debates of tuition and drivers licenses, but the patchwork of policies aiming to bring relief to immigrant families continues to grow.
Perhaps it is time for hardliners on these issues, such as New Mexico's Governor Susana Martinez, to take a closer look as to how states are seeking solutions, not obstruction, when it comes to common sense immigration policies.
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