Today Maryland and Oregon are celebrating the signing of new laws expanding access to driver’s licenses to all residents, including undocumented immigrants. We are part of a movement. Our hope is that our success inspires the passage of bills in more than a dozen other states considering similar measures.
In most states today, it is difficult, if not impossible, for people to go about their daily lives without the ability to drive. Simple but essential tasks such as driving kids to school or to extracurricular activities, picking up groceries, going to the doctor, and traveling to workbecome riddled with hardship. As a result, people without access to driver’s licenses are faced with the difficult “choice” of either not meeting their basic needs or driving and risking arrest and other negative repercussions.
Against this backdrop, having a driver’s license can provide critical protection for immigrants’ civil rights. Across the country, immigrants are subjected to harassment, racial profiling, and needless arrest and detention by law enforcement officials who use driving without a license to route aspiring citizens into deportation proceedings. Many immigrants have been driven into the shadows as a result, living in fear of these consequences every time they find themselves compelled to get behind the wheel of a car. At least in Maryland and Oregon, they will now be able to get driver’s licenses—and having a drivers’ license means no longer having to live with that fear.
Needless to say, providing greater access to driver’s licenses is also good for public safety. Applying for a license means learning the rules of the road. It means getting trained and tested, and being able to obtain insurance coverage. Licensed drivers are less likely to get into accidents and less likely to flee the scene of an accident. If only for these pragmatic reasons, expanding access to driver’s licenses is a no-brainer.
More importantly, denying licenses to people who contribute so much to our culture and economy—who form such an integral part of our societies—runs counter to the fundamental principle of treating all our residents with equal dignity and respect.
By supporting and passing this bill, Marylanders and Oregonians have once again made the right choice and have sent a clear message to our elected representatives in Congress: We welcome aspiring citizens in our states. We are taking local steps to ensure that all our residents have access to basic necessities while they await the opportunity to embark on their path to citizenship. We hope and expect you to complement our efforts by passing just and humane comprehensive immigration reform now. In the meantime, we join states across the country taking practical steps to enact common-sense policies right now.