Illegal Immigrants And Driver’s Licensesby Doug Mataconis
There’s a very good post up over at Cato@Liberty on the debate that erupted between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over whether states should be permitted to give driver’s licenses to people who are in the country illegally.
As the post’s author notes, the right answer to the question has little to do with immigration:
Many people believe that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be “rewarded” with drivers’ licenses. Fair enough: the rule of law is important. There’s also a theory that denying illegal immigrants “benefits” like driver licensing will make the country inhospitable enough that they will leave. This has not borne out, however. Denying illegal immigrants licenses has merely caused unlicensed and untrained driving, with the hit-and-run accidents and higher insurance rates that flow from that.
The major reason, though, why I agree with Senator Obama is because the linking of driver licensing and immigration status is part of the move to convert the driver’s license into a national ID card. Mission-creep at the country’s DMVs is not just causing growth in one of the least-liked bureaucracies. It’s creating the infrastructure for direct regulatory control of individuals by the federal government.
Were immigration status and driver licensing solidly linked nationwide, the driver’s license would not just be a “benefit” of citizenship. It would then clearly be amenable to use as an immigration-control tool — as has already been proposed. Law-abiding, native-born citizens would more and more often be required to show ID. And it would be converted to additional uses. The federal government could condition our access to goods, services, and infrastructure on carrying and presenting a national ID, possession of which the government could make conditional on every regulatory whim that swept past.
This isn’t just a theory. As I noted last month, the Department of Homeland Security is proposing that we be required to show identification to purchase some over-the-counter cold medications. More importantly though, as with nearly everything else that comes from the state, this proposal to help “secure the borders” ends up making all of us less free. By turning the driver’s license, which when it was created was merely meant to signify that the holder has passed basic tests to show that they knew how to operate a motor vehicle safely, into an immigration enforcement tool, we have suddenly created, through the back door, the very National ID that people claim to oppose.
More importantly, there’s absolutely no evidence that denying driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants will do anything to stop illegal immigration. People come here for jobs, and they’ll get to those jobs any way they need to (around here it’s pretty common to see them going everywhere by bicycle) even if that means driving without a driver’s license. And unless they’re picked up in a traffic infraction, nobody will ever know about it.
Alex Knapp puts it best at Outside The Beltway:
One of the worst things about the Know-Nothing anti-illegal immigration crowd is that virtually all of the measures proposed by them to “secure the border” ends up making the country a less free place to be. I am livid at the fact that I now need a passport just to go to Canada–one of our staunchest allies and trade partners. I feel like a criminal every time I get a new job and an employer has to run a background and immigration check to make sure that I’m a citizen. I was positively appalled at the antics of the INS against a friend of mine from New Zealand (another staunch ally and trade partner) regarding his visa conditions, when all he wants to do is go to college here.
And it’s only going to get worse from there. Once you turn the driver’s license into a “citizenship verification card,” there’s no end to the possible uses that the state can make of it.
And that’s why, if they can pass the basic road safety tests, illegal immigrants should be allowed to get driver’s licenses.