Liddick: Driver’s license for undocumented immigrants a false stamp of approval (column)
February 26, 2018
Since 2013, foreign nationals illegally resident in Colorado have been able to obtain a state driver's license. But recently there have been complaints. These special licenses are more expensive than those for Colorado citizens. They require specific documents to obtain. Advocates for illegal residents complain about these problems with "undocumented immigrants'" driving licenses.
They are wrong. The real problem is that these licenses exist at all.
What are the arguments in favor of them? Some say that because one must pass a written and a driving test to obtain one, recipients will be more familiar with the rules of the road and the American style of driving, so will be less accident-prone. But given that these folks have been living in our country contrary to the law, one wonders how deep their concern for society's rules and regulations really is.
Another argument in favor has to do with matters of everyday life: driving to jobs, taking the kids to school and whatnot. Yet a third has to do with fear that, if apprehended driving without a license, an illegal resident may be arrested, their immigration status discovered and they may be deported, "breaking up a family." The thought that the driver assumed this risk when they decided to have a family without normalizing their immigration status somehow never occurs.
Complaints about the requirement for a taxpayer identification number and a relatively long waiting period are understandable: why should a foreign national living illegally in the country care about documents? And if they didn't bother waiting in line to enter legally, why should they wait for a license? As much as anything these complaints expose the twin foundations of the "undocumented immigrant" driving license "problem:" a cavalier attitude about the law and a large group of Americans willing to truckle to lawbreakers, for reasons both noble and base.
Does giving driving licenses to illegal residents reduce accidents, as proponents claim? That's difficult to prove, because state and Federal regulations prohibit questions about immigration status when one is detained by police. Nor are statistics on immigration status of those causing road accidents disaggregated or kept in an way easy to research.
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Nevertheless, some pertinent facts can be teased out of federal records and the private AAA database of traffic fatalities. First, if one cannot obtain a driving license but drives anyway, one is five times more likely to drive drunk and 9.5 times more likely to engage in hit-and-run.
The Federal Fatal Accident Reporting System indicates that a steady 20 percent of all fatal road accidents involve unlicensed drivers; calculations from the Hoover and CATO institutions, from the Foundation for American Immigration Reform and elsewhere suggest that at least half of unlicensed drivers – and 90 percent of unlicensed drivers who have never had a license – are illegally resident in our country. Which suggests that, of the 657 people killed in road accidents in Colorado last year, about 65 were killed by illegal residents.
Or it may be worse. According to local statistics 37 percent of those fatalities resulted from "impaired driving." In September, 2017, a nationwide ICE sweep resulted in 67 criminal alien arrests in Denver alone – 10 percent of all arrests made nationwide. The most common conviction? DWI.
In 2014, the first year the policy was in place, 488 people died in 451 accidents on Colorado's roads. Last year, there were 587 accidents with 635 victims – a 30 percent increase in three years, versus a population growth averaging 1.5 percent per annum. So it seems not to have had the touted effect.
The convenience of lawbreakers should not be a principal force in public policy. It's unfortunate that those here in violation of the law are inconvenienced. But let's be clear: those consequences stem only from their decisions and actions. We either have a government of laws, or we do not; one side of this issue clearly embraces the latter. Why they think a lawless state is preferable to the protections we currently enjoy is for them to explain.
But I'll bet they won't.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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