To those who oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, moves to allow undocumented residents to receive one valuable document — a driver’s license — is seen as both a folly and a provocation. But some states have taken this step, including populous California, which did so last year.
For those states such as California with large numbers of illegal immigrants, allowing such residents to have licenses is hardly madness, although it may affront principle. The interest of any state is to get unlicensed and uninsured drivers off the roads and deter hit-and-run accidents. Licensing can help to achieve these goals while giving the state revenue from licensing fees that it would not normally get.
But California has an unanticipated problem. It was assumed that those who live in the shadows would welcome the chance to come into the open and enjoy some measure of legality and peace of mind, even if it was just for driving to their jobs. But it is being reported that the license program is meeting significant resistance from the very illegal immigrants it is supposed to help.
They just don’t trust the government. They fear that their names and addresses will be divulged to federal authorities and the information will be used to deport them. While state officials swear the information will be not shared with other agencies, the fear is understandable at a time when the number of deportations is running high.
It is, of course, an irony that conservatives who don’t like illegal immigrants and the immigrants themselves both share a deep distrust of government — and that suggests that any assumptions of how they might vote as future citizens might be wrong.
But the real lesson here has to do with stalled immigration reform. If long-time illegal immigrants were made legal, obtaining a driver’s license would no longer make them fearful. As it is, the failure of Congress to pass an immigration reform bill complicates everybody’s lives.