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Should Undocumented Texas Residents Get Drivers’ Licenses?

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Thursday, December 6, 2012   

DALLAS - Could a national post-election mood change help reverse a Texas crackdown on undocumented residents receiving drivers' licenses?

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, hopes so. He's introduced a bill, HB 152, that would require the Department of Public Safety to accept foreign documentation from applicants.

DPS in 2008 stopped issuing licenses to those in the country illegally, and that policy was strengthened by the Legislature in 2011. In prior years, Alonzo says, allowing all residents to test for driving privileges was considered a practical matter.

"The law had been in existence for years because undocumented immigrants are driving. Having a driver’s license is a safety issue, to make sure that they pass the test and are familiar with the laws of the state of Texas."

Immigrant advocates also argue that more drivers would obtain insurance if they could get licenses. Only New Mexico, Washington, and Utah grant undocumented residents licenses or permits, but this week the Illinois Senate approved such a measure by a wide margin.

As immigration concerns have grown increasingly politicized in the past decade, proposals that once saw bipartisan support - ranging from immigrant drivers' licenses to comprehensive immigration reform - were effectively taken off the table. But with more than 70 percent of Latinos voting Democratic in the last election, more and more Republicans now are saying their party needs to rethink its hardline approach. Alonzo thinks the election was a wake-up call, even in red states such as Texas.

"The people have realized that undocumented immigrants are not the boogieman. There are other issues that are much more important. As a result, I think, they see the picture: that they don't need that kind of legislation."

As the next legislative session draws near, fewer immigration-oriented bills have been introduced in Texas than at this time two years ago. Still, current proposals include taking away in-state college tuition rates for undocumented students and expanding immigration detention facilities.

Read the text of HB 152 and track its progress at legis.state.tx.us.


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