To those who oppose “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, moves to allow undocumented residents to receive one valuable document — a driver’s license — are seen as both a folly and a provocation. But some states have taken this step, including populous California, which did so last year.
For states such as California with large numbers of illegal immigrants, allowing such residents to have licenses is hardly madness, although it may affront principle. The interest of any state is to get unlicensed and uninsured drivers off the roads and deter hit-and-run accidents. Licensing can help achieve these goals while giving the state revenue from licensing fees it would not normally get.
But California has an unanticipated problem. The license program reportedly is meeting significant resistance from the very illegal immigrants it is supposed to help. They just don’t trust the government. They fear their names and addresses will be divulged to federal authorities and the information will be used to deport them. Although state officials insist the information will be not shared with other agencies, the fear is understandable at a time when the number of deportations is running high.
It is an irony that conservatives who don’t like illegal immigrants and the immigrants themselves share a deep distrust of government. That suggests that any assumptions about how they might vote as future citizens might be wrong.
But the real lesson here has to do with stalled immigration reform. If longtime illegal immigrants were made legal, obtaining a driver’s license would no longer make them fearful. As it is, the failure of Congress to pass an immigration reform bill complicates everybody’s lives.