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Try reasonable middle way to license illegal immigrants

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on May 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
May 25, 2012 6:28 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

One issue that has arisen in the state gubernatorial race is whether people seeking driver’s licenses should have to prove legal residency. Washington is one of only two states – New Mexico is the other – that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain unrestricted driver’s licenses – ones that can be used for personal identification purposes.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, wants applicants to show Social Security documentation in order to be licensed to drive. His opponent, Democrat Jay Inslee, isn’t ready to go there.

Inslee is right – to a point. Requiring Social Security documentation might be going too far, but that doesn’t mean the state shouldn’t tighten up its requirements.

Washington’s lax standards can be a welcome beacon to illegal immigrants to come here for a driver’s license – which then can be used in other states to obtain documentation they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get.

The alternative – denying driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants – is not a good idea from a public safety standpoint. Society has a stake in drivers being able to pass a test and show a license if they are pulled over or are involved in an accident. Drivers without a license are more likely to flee the scene.

Washington lawmakers concerned about illegal immigrants using their state driver’s licenses for sketchy identification purposes should consider the path Utah has taken. There, undocumented immigrants can obtain a Driving Privilege Card after showing a foreign birth certificate or passport; a completed fingerprint card and photograph; and one of several other forms of identification, such as a foreign driver’s license, insurance ID card or Mexican voter registration card.

The Driving Privilege Card looks noticeably different than the standard driver’s license and cannot be used for identification purposes beyond demonstrating that the holder is licensed to drive.

An advantage to Utah’s plan is that 70 percent to 75 percent of Driving Privilege Card holders purchase automobile insurance, said Salt Lake City immigration attorney Mark Alvarez. An effort earlier this year to get rid of the card was unsuccessful.

It’s not easy for an illegal immigrant to get licensed to drive in Utah, but it’s not impossible – which means it’s not the kind of magnet state Washington has become. That’s a reasonable, middle path lawmakers should consider.

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