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The future of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants

Illegal immigrants can only get driver’s licenses in three states: New Mexico, Utah and Washington. As other states crack down on illegal immigration, the three states are reportedly receiving higher numbers of illegal immigrant applicants for driver’s licenses — either because more undocumented people are moving to the states or because they are visiting to get a license they can take back to where they live.

But the future of that practice is looking hazy: In all three states, officials and lawmakers have pushed for tighter restrictions on licenses to keep them out of the hands of undocumented immigrants, particularly those who reside in other states.

In Washington, a new policy went into effect today requiring driver’s license applicants to give either a verified Social Security number or proof they live in the state. The new policy is part of a larger effort “to clamp down on license fraud,” Washington Licensing Director Liz Luce told the Associated Press last week. The agency will copy and verify documents proving residency before it issues permanent driver’s licenses to people who do not give a valid Social Security number.

New Mexico has yet to change its policies on illegal immigrants and licenses, but that could change under Governor-elect Susana Martinez (R). Martinez reiterated her support for repealing the current driver’s license laws during an interview with Univision on Sunday. “Around 80 percent of people in New Mexico don’t want the people who are here illegally to have a driver’s license,” Martinez said. “They want to ensure that those who get licenses are from the United States.”

Utah, finally, could see changes to how it gives out driver’s privilege cards based on proposed laws to eliminate illegal immigration to the state. State Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R) wants to pass legislation allowing immigration enforcement officials to access driver’s privilege databases, which would deter many undocumented people from seeking licenses in the first place.

Why does this matter? According to pro-enforcement groups, allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses is a type of amnesty and could draw illegal immigrants to the United States. But advocates of the driver’s license laws say it’s a matter of public safety because licensed drivers are tested for knowledge of driving laws and required to carry insurance. Cracking down on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, then, would lead to more adults who cannot drive — a tough situation in regions without good public transportation — or more unlicensed drivers.

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