Upfront Home
In This Issue
News and Trends
Times Past
The Ethicist
Teen Voices
Upfront Topics
Magazine Info
Should Illegal Immigrants Be Able to Get Driver's Licenses?

Six states currently allow them to do so

People are frustrated with our broken immigration system. But denying driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants won't solve the problem and is a distraction from the real issues that states face in promoting public safety and protecting their communities.

Most states—all except six—deny licenses to illegal immigrants. This increases the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers, and undermines effective law enforcement.

More than 14 percent of all accidents are caused by uninsured drivers, resulting in $4.1 billion in insurance losses a year, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said last year that granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants "would reduce the number of hit-and-runs and increase the number of insured motorists on the road."

There are at least 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States; they are our neighbors, our classmates, and our co-workers. They didn't come to the U.S. to get a driver's license, but like most Americans, they need to be able to drive to get to work, to take their kids to school, and to carry out daily activities.

State policymakers can either ignore reality and deny them licenses, or acknowledge the reality that these people are living and driving in our states by implementing a policy that protects everyone's safety.

Congress needs to fix our broken immigration system. In the meantime, for the public's safety, states need to make sure that their drivers are tested, licensed, and insured.

Tyler Moran
National Immigration Law Center

States have the right to issue driver's licenses to people who are in the United States illegally, but that doesn't mean they should.

The costs simply outweigh the benefits. For one, issuing licenses—as well as providing other benefits like education and emergency-room care—encourages further illegal immigration.

Unlike those who enter the U.S. legally and boost our economy, illegal immigrants place a heavy fiscal burden on their communities—while undermining the rule of law and cheapening the value of American citizenship.

In addition, states that issue the same licenses to illegal and legal residents will soon be in violation of new federal standards. As a result, their citizens won't be allowed to present their driver's licenses as ID for "federal purposes," such as passing through airport security checkpoints. In other words, residents who follow the law will be inconvenienced to extend a privilege to those who break it.

Some states also register voters when they issue driver's licenses. If individuals who aren't here legally are routinely allowed to register, these states may wind up unintentionally giving the vote to people who aren't legally entitled to it.

Finally, with a valid license in hand as identification, individuals here illegally may seek to obtain other kinds of benefits that they aren't entitled to, such as food stamps. That's fraud, and that's a crime. People who want to live and work in the United States should do so legally—just like the rest of us.

James Jay Carafano
Heritage Foundation