Citizenship Checks for Wash. Driver’s License

By Liz Jones

Some lawmakers in Olympia want to make the Department of Licensing an immigration checkpoint.  A proposed bill would require people to prove they are lawfully in U.S. in order to get a driver’s license. Currently, Washington is one of only two states without this requirement.

Washington and New Mexico are the only two state’s that give standard driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.  Republican Senator Don Benton wants Washington to fall in line with the rest of the country. He’s sponsored a bill that would require proof of legal status if you want a driver’s license. Benton, of Vancouver, says it’s a matter of safety.

Benton: “We’re talking about giving official government ID cards to people who have the broken the law to be here. That is a serious risk to our national security.”

Benton points out people can use a driver’s license to board a plane. Backers of measures like this have noted that most of the 9/11 hijackers carried valid state driver’s licenses.

This is a familiar issue in Olympia. Republican lawmakers have filed similar bills, several times in the past decade. Most recently, in 2011, the bill got further than it had before…but ultimately failed to get a floor vote.

Rich Stolz heads the Seattle-based non-profit One America. The group advocates for immigrant rights, and opposes Benton’s bill.

Stolz: “Making it harder for workers to get to work and students to get to school is not a sound policy for our state’s future. And I think it could potentially have a negative impact on a lot of Washington’s industries that do depend on immigrant workers, many of whom happen to be undocumented.”

Stolz says undocumented people still need to drive. And that with a license, they’re more likely to have insurance and know the rules of road.  That argument gets some backing from a recent study in California. The Department of Motor Vehicles there analyzed more than two decades of car crashes. It found unlicensed drivers are nearly three times more likely to cause a fatal crash.

The report suggests that after people pass an official driving test, they tend to be safer behind the wheel.

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