Wash. Lawmakers Want Citizenship Checks For Driver’s Licenses

Jan 16, 2013

Credit Clark County, WA

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 the United States in order to get a driver’s license.

Currently, Washington and New Mexico are the only states that give standard driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Utah offers a temporary driving permit to people without legal US status.

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, wants Washington to fall in line with the rest of the country. He’s sponsored a bill that would require proof of legal status to obtain a driver’s license.

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

“We’re talking about giving official government ID cards to people who have broken the law to be here," Benton said. "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 similar measures 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, executive director of Seattle-based One America, considers this recurring debate in Olympia to be more about politics than pragmatism.

“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," Stolz said. "I think it could potentially have a negative impact on a lot of Washington’s industries that depend on immigrant workers, many of whom happen to be undocumented.”

Stolz says undocumented people still need to drive, and with licenses they’re more likely to have insurance and know the rules of the road.

That argument gets some backing from a recent study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. It analyzed more than two decades of car crashes and found unlicensed drivers are nearly three times more likely to cause a fatal crash. The report suggests that after someone passes an official driving test, they tend to be safer behind the wheel.