Let undocumented drive legally

Mar. 24, 2014 @ 12:04 AM


Nearly 100 demonstrators marched in downtown Raleigh Saturday to urge North Carolina to issue drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“Immigrants “play an important part in the economy of North Carolina,” the News and Observer quoted Ana Marie Reichenbach of Fuerza y Libertad (Strength and Liberty), the group that organized the march.”Part of that role can only be done when people have transportation without fear."

That is true, and supporting that role by licensing those immigrants to drive is a worthy goal.

Moreover, there are other aspects to issuing those licenses that have struck us as compelling as the debate has proceeded in recent years.

As it happens, the N. C. Department of Public Safety just this month issued a study of the potential impact of various legislative proposals to overhaul North Carolina’s laws on undocumented immigrants.

The study saw some potential downsides to issuing driver’s licenses – most notably the unknown impact on Department of Motor Vehicles offices if thousands of immigrants could suddenly apply for licenses.

That bureaucratic challenge would seem to pale in comparison to the study’s conclusion that issuing licenses would make the state’s roads safer.

“When a driver obtains a license it allows the State to determine that the driver has a minimal level of skill and understanding of North Carolina traffic laws,” the study said.  “The threat of losing the driving privilege motivates a license driver to comply with traffic laws.”

It noted that in 2013, approximately 97,801 unlicensed drivers were involved in highway crashes. (That’s one out of every seven crashes, the News and Observer reported last April.)

While it acknowledged there was no “statistical basis of comparison to verify” it, the study concluded “increasing the number of licensed drivers among those operating vehicles in the State should lead to safer driving in North Carolina.”

That conclusion should be neither surprising nor partisan. Anthony Tata, the state’s secretary of transportation, offered much the same rationale when he cleared the DMV to issue licenses to those covered by President Barack Obama’s executive order deferring any deportation proceedings against “dreamers” – young men and women brought to this country as children by their parents.

Thanks to the new policy, Tata said, “we will know who they are. They will have a license. They will have insurance, and it will make our roads safer.”

Tata’s remarks were noted in a column last September by Raul Pinto a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Undocumented immigrants in North Carolina drive out of necessity …to get to their jobs or the grocery store, take their children to school or attend places of worship,” Pinto wrote for N. C. PolicyWatch. “Granting a driver’s license regardless of immigration status would guarantee that those who are now driving without a license know the rules of the road.”
Surely, legislators, even in the absence of any consensus on other aspects of immigration reform, can get behind the driver’s license change, if only to make our roads safer.