Editorial: Controversial call: Should immigrants be able to drive legally?

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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This month, California joined the group of states that allow immigrants living in the United States without legal permission the ability to obtain a driver’s license. California, among a growing group of states, cites public safety as the premise for the initiative.

“You either have a license or you don’t have a license.” noted Kim Raney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Raney is absolutely correct: Those living in our country illegally should have the right to legally drive in the states in which they reside. If they live here and are employed here, chances are they drive here, as well. Driving without a license causes individuals to pose serious public safety risks while driving.

In the eastern states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, similar initiatives have been introduced.

In Pennsylvania, state Representative Angel Cruz, D-Philadelphia, introduced a bill that would permit persons living in the country illegally to obtain a license in Pennsylvania strictly for driving.

“My bill would ensure that those who operate vehicles in Pennsylvania are insured, subject to a driving test and familiar with our traffic laws,” said Cruz.

The proposed law asks for applicants to provide a foreign passport, an unexpired consular identification document or a consular report of birth from another country and proof of residence in Pennsylvania for at least 90 days as a form of identification to obtain the license.

Also, licenses would only be valid for driving: Other usages — identification at airports or for voting purposes — won’t be available to license holders in an effort to abide by federal immigration laws.

Yet, this is where the debate begins: For immigrants to be issued driver’s licenses, many — including Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. — say this practice promotes “quasi-amnesty” and is contradictive to the nation’s immigration policies.

“The whole point of immigration law is to make it impractical to stay here illegally,” Krikorian said. “This is doing the exact opposite. The point of this is to make it practical to live here illegally. … What it means is the government is formally incorporating illegal aliens into institutions of our society.”

Krikorian has a valid point: Issuing driver’s licenses to those who live in the U.S. without legal permission neglects their status and allots them a status equivalent to citizens, undermining the distinction and significance of being a citizen of the United States.

To combat this, lawmakers could potentially entertain amendments that require documentation from applicants to exemplify they are actively pursuing citizenship from the United States. In turn, efforts to give driver’s licenses to those residing in the U.S. illegally will provide an enhanced sense of public safety while upholding federal immigration pieces of legislation.

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