For many immigrants in this country who lack proper residency authorization, one dream has long seemed so important yet completely out of reach: the ability to receive a driver’s license. In many parts of this country, the ability to drive a car can mean the difference between finding well paying, regular work and being left on the fringes of the labor pool. And this says nothing of the multitude of other benefits that come with being mobile in this country. Without driver’s licenses, these individuals are either forced to look elsewhere for transportation or to drive illegally, risking deportation in the event that they are pulled over by police even for a minor traffic violation.
This year, some undocumented immigrants in this country are finally achieving their long held goal of applying for and receiving driver’s licenses, as the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is enabling states to grant licenses to those who have been authorized through the program to temporarily live and work legally in this country. Today, more than a dozen states currently offer driver’s licenses to at least some undocumented residents, including Calif., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Mass., Md., Nev., N.M., Tenn., Texas, Utah, Va., Wash., and Wisc.
Immigrant rights activists have long pushed for driving privileges for this group of as a key factor in improving their chances for success and social mobility in this country and more fully integrating them into their communities. Especially in areas that lack reliable public transportation systems, the ability to drive can be a matter of survival for some.
However, the movement to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants certainly has its detractors, perhaps none more than Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer who has made it definitively clear that those who reside in this state without proper authorization, regardless of whether or not they have been accepted into the DACA program, will not be eligible to legally drive there. Last week, Brewer’s office explained that Arizona law states that one must have proof under federal law that one is legally authorized to reside in this country before they can apply for driver’s licenses. Because the DACA program merely states that one will not be deported, it does not provide this required proof. Brewer is currently being sued by the ACLU over the issue.
In addition, to Arizona, five other states have also officially denied undocumented immigrants the right to apply for driver’s licenses, including Ark., Kan., Mich., Miss. and Neb. It is unclear how the lawsuit currently pending against the state of Ariz. will influence laws in these other states.