ACLU of Rhode Island Calls New Driver's License Policy "Shortsighted"

May 23, 2003 12:00 am

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ACLU of Rhode Island Calls New Driver’s License Policy “Shortsighted”

Statement of Steven Brown, Executive Director, ACLU of Rhode Island


PROVIDENCE, RI–The announcement today by state officials that they will no longer issue driver’s licenses to individuals who present Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) rather than Social Security Numbers is a shortsighted policy change that will not make us any safer, but will cause enormous hardships.

While we understand the state’s interest in maintaining security in issuing state driver’s licenses, we believe the state’s new policy fails to accomplish this goal and is poor public policy. In fact, it is counter-productive to its goal and poses a great disservice to the entire community.

The new policy will only make our roads unsafe for the community as a whole. Driver’s licenses promote safe driving. Undocumented immigrants who are unable to obtain a driver’s license, but who still need to drive, will simply drive without having passed the required exams and without carrying auto insurance. Accidents involving uninsured drivers increase the cost of auto insurance for all drivers.

To the extent the state’s focus on undocumented immigrants is meant as a post 9/11 security measure, it is worth noting that most of the 19 September 11th hijackers were in the country legally and therefore would have been able to obtain a driver’s license. Ironically, then, this bill will simply make it harder for law enforcement officials to find undocumented immigrants living here, thereby impeding crime prevention and investigation. As long as there is a substantial population of undocumented immigrants in the state, it makes little sense to deprive them of a license solely because of their immigration status.

Whether a person receives a driver’s license should be based solely on whether he or she is qualified as a driver and is a resident of the state. Officials with the Department of Motor Vehicles should not be placed in the inappropriate role of serving as INS agents. Indeed, determining whether a person is in the country illegally is no simple task. There are over 40 different statuses of persons who are lawfully in the country but do not have a ‘green card.’ In addition, there are many people whose status has not been determined by INS. Not all these people will have documents to verify their status.

Given the complexity of immigration law, this policy will likely result in the denial of driver’s licenses to persons who are lawfully present in the country. We hope the state will reconsider this decision.

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