New D.C. Law Allows Driver’s Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants
Driving to purchase groceries, pick up the kids from school, or visit the doctor’s office are tasks most of us do without thinking twice. But for those who don’t qualify for a driver’s license, these everyday chores could be the source of great stress. Many states, including the District of Columbia, have prevented those without valid immigration status from receiving a license. The result has been many undocumented immigrants driving without licenses, which frequently means driving without insurance. This all changed last Tuesday, November 5th, when the D.C. Council approved a bill allowing the city’s undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Estimates are that this new law will allow as many as 15,000 D.C. residents who are undocumented immigrants to receive licenses. Currently, 13 other states allow the undocumented to obtain licenses.
The bill as it was originally introduced to the D.C. Council would have provided the same driver’s license to undocumented immigrants as to any other residents of the District. However, the bill ultimately passed by the Council provides a different driver’s license for undocumented immigrants, one which prominently states that it is “not valid for official federal purposes.”
The D.C. Council changed the original bill and created this second type of license in order to comply with the federal Real ID Act. State driver’s licenses are commonly used for identification purposes, such as when boarding airplanes or entering federal buildings. The Real ID Act sets minimum federal requirements which each state must meet when issuing state licenses and ID cards.
Had the D.C. Council passed the original bill and provided the same driver’s license to undocumented immigrants as it provides to citizens and lawful permanent residents, it would have risked running afoul of the Real ID Act—which might have prevented all D.C. residents from using their driver’s licenses for federal identification purposes.
As it stands, undocumented immigrants will be able to drive with their new licenses, but will not be able to use the licenses as identification for boarding airplanes or other “federal purposes.”
Even with the added language, immigrant advocates see this new driver’s license as a victory. The new license allows undocumented immigrants to lead more productive lives and creates safer roads for all residents. Most residents without documentation have made the decision to drive without a license. By providing licenses, the D.C. Council can ensure all drivers on District roads are meeting proper driving testing requirements, and have insurance on their vehicles.
The new driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in D.C. will become available beginning in May 2014.