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Liberty and License for All? Report on Immigrant Driver's Licenses

PHOTO: A new report makes the case that allowing people to get driver's licenses without regard to their immigration status would increase public safety and economic opportunity in North Carolina. Photo courtesy: NC Dept. of Transportation.

PHOTO: A new report makes the case that allowing people to get driver's licenses without regard to their immigration status would increase public safety and economic opportunity in North Carolina. Photo courtesy: NC Dept. of Transportation.


April 9, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. - In North Carolina and 37 other states, an undocumented worker can't get a driver's license. That leaves hundreds of thousands without a way to get to work or school, or forces them to get behind the wheel without proper training, testing or insurance.

A new report by the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center highlights the benefits of offering licenses to immigrants. Kate Woomer-Deters, managing attorney for civil litigation at the center's Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, explained the need.

"There's no clamor we hear more from the immigrant community than the fact that they want and need a driver's license," she said. "We don't hear that just from the immigrant community; we hear that also from the business community."

Opponents of offering licenses to undocumented workers say it legitimizes people who have broken the law to enter the country.

The report cites the needs filled by the immigrant community in the state's workforce, and the increased spending at local merchants that would occur if immigrants had more access to transportation.

Public safety is another consideration listed in the report. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, unlicensed drivers are five times more likely to be involved in fatal car crashes. In North Carolina, it's estimated one out of seven drivers is unlicensed. Woomer-Deters said changing that has benefits for anyone on the road.

"It's a better thing to have people on the road who've been tested, who know the rules of the road, who have had their vision tested, who have been tested to see that they know how to drive safely in a road test," she said.

After New Mexico enacted a law in 2003 to license all drivers, according to the report, its rate of uninsured vehicles decreased from 33 percent to less than 10 percent by 2011. It also estimates more than 250,000 people in North Carolina would benefit from making driver's licenses available to people, regardless of immigration status.

The report is online at ncjustice.org.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC