Driver’s Licenses to Be Issued to D.C.’s Undocumented Immigrants

| by Allison Geller

As of next May, undocumented immigrants in Washington, D.C., will be able to obtain a special type of driver’s license, per a bill approved Tuesday by the District of Columbia Council.

While immigration advocates consider the bill a positive step in helping undocumented immigrants lead more productive lives, the caveat of the special license is a prominent notice that will make their unofficial status obvious, the Huffington Post reported.

A “not valid for official federal purposes” note will make it clear to police officers that the document holder is not a legal resident.

Salvador G. Sarmiento of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network wrote in a statement Tuesday:

The bill passed today is a significant step toward restoring access to basic services and reducing the threat of deportation for DC’s immigrant residents. It makes our streets safer and our communities more secure. People in the district will be able to arrive at their jobs and bring their children home from school without constant worry ... Yet the marking on the license singles out DC’s undocumented residents and opens up potential discrimination and targeting, especially outside the district ... Until we have equal access for everyone and recognize that we are 'one city' that deserves one license we have much more work ahead of us.

The District of Columbia has pushed for more accepting policies towards undocumented immigrants. Police are asked not to ask people about their immigration status, for example, with the goal of making the city safer by allowing anyone to go to the police without fear.

D.C. mayor Vincent Gray first proposed issuing two types of licenses. Earlier this year, a D.C. council committee went a step further and approved a bill that would grant undocumented immigrants licenses that looked identical to any other.

Immigration advocates said the Department of Homeland Security was responsible for pressuring the council to modify the bill to mandate two types of licenses. The Real ID Act will soon go into enforcement, requiring localities to verify the “lawful status” of ID-holders.

Even so, states are increasingly passing bills to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, the Seattle Times reported in June. A year ago, only three states had such measures in place, while now almost all states have at least adjusted their policies concerning IDs, driver’s licenses or driving-privileged cards for all residents, documented or not.

Sources: Huffington Post, WUSA 9, Seattle Times