Wisconsin, California Would Join Utah in Giving Driving Cards to Undocumented Immigrants

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Photo: Welmoe/Flickr

Photo: Welmoe/Flickr

Wisconsin would become the second state in the union to issue undocumented immigrants special cards allowing them to drive but not grant them other rights, according to a provision in the state budget that still has to be approved by the full legislature and Gov. Jim Doyle.

A similar bill sponsored by State Sen. Gilbert Cedillo (D.-Los Angeles) was approved in the California Senate Monday. It now heads to the Assembly and possibly the governor’s desk. Cedillo’s initiative, however, has been defeated several times in previous years.

So far, Utah is the only state that issues special cards allowing immigrants to drive, but stops short of granting them other rights — creating a two-tiered system where about 40,000 drivers have the cards, The Associated Press reported.

Three other states –Washington, Illinois and New Mexico– allow the undocumented to receive regular driver’s licenses, The A.P. said. Maryland stopped issuing them this week.

Hawaii issues undocumented immigrants state IDs, but not driving documents.

The Wisconsin cards, just as the Utah ones, would not act as official IDs. But at the same time, law enforcement officers would not be able to inquire about the immigration status of the card holder, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Democrats on the Legislature’s budget committee inserted the provision in the state’s 2009-2011 budget.

“Number one, it’s basic safety on the roads. Everybody should know how to drive,” Rep. Pedro Colon, (D.-Milwaukee), who helped get the measure in the budget, said Monday. “Number two, we should know the identity of people behind the wheel.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, (R.-Menomonee Falls), who authored federal legislation to restrict illegal immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses, said the card proposal would encourage people to be in the state illegally.

“If you’re not supposed to be here, you shouldn’t be driving here. It’s as simple as that,” Sensenbrenner said. “Permission to drive equals mobility to go around and get a job and do whatever you want to do.”

[Wisconsin State Journal]

The proposal includes a six-month residency requirement to prevent out-of-state residents from traveling to Wisconsin just to obtain a driving document. Tennessee, which was the only other state to try this system, decided to discontinue it after it found immigrants from other states were seeking licenses there.

The California proposal would also create a special card not valid for purposes other than driver identification. According to a statement by Sen. Cedillo’s office, the plan complies with the requirements of the federal Real ID Act, which will come into full effect in 2011.

Federal Real ID enables two standardized types of licenses – a Real ID driver’s license which can be used for identification purposes and a driving-only license for those unable or unwilling to meet identification requirements.

The driving-only license will have a clear mark on the front of the license indicating it is non-Real ID and may not be used for identification when boarding a plane or entering a federal building.

[Cedillo statement]

“We have an opportunity to provide secure, standardized licenses to all drivers under Real ID and the new timeline enables a smooth, cost sensitive transition,” Cedillo said in the release. “SB 60 continues to be the most pragmatic approach for resolving the security and public safety concerns facing law enforcement.”

The senator has been insisting on this project since 2003, when his proposal passed both the state Senate and the House and was ratified by then-Gov. Gray Davis, Univision.com noted. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger later nullified the bill, arguing it went against national security.

AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.