Offer driver’s licenses to immigrants, lawmakers say

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Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, discusses proposals to provide driver's licenses to certain immigrants. (Photo by Brian Williams)

RICHMOND – Two legislators from Northern Virginia want the state to provide driver’s licenses to qualified immigrants living in the commonwealth.

Del. Kaye Kory of Falls Church and newly elected Sen. Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon – both Democrats – said their proposals would make driving in Virginia safer.

The lawmakers said that if immigrants can obtain a government-issued identification card or driver’s license, it will benefit not only immigrants but also Virginia’s economic growth.

Undocumented immigrants, as well as some legal immigrants, lack everyday services such as a bank account because they lack proper identification. This happens because immigrants seeking asylum may have to wait years for their cases to be decided. During this waiting period, they are active in their communities and pay taxes but aren’t afforded basic privileges such as legally operating a car.

“It’s really a crime that the state perpetrates on legal immigrants,” said Kory, who is sponsoring House Bill 695 to address the issue. “By not allowing them to have the rights and privileges that other citizens have isn’t fair.”

Surovell is sponsoring a similar proposal – Senate Bill 390. It would require immigrants to provide proof of Virginia residency for one year and also a tax return showing taxes have been filed for an individual or a return showing that an individual has been claimed as a dependent.

Surovell said it’s important for people to have an official ID card.

“Having a form of identification does so much for law enforcement,” he said. “When people are not legally present, they are less likely to come forward when a crime is committed and they are less likely to serve as a witness.”

According to the Commonwealth Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group for low- and middle-income Virginians, the number of immigrant (foreign-born) Virginians grew 19 percent from 2007 to 2013. That compares with a national increase of 9 percent during the same time period.

Surovell sees this growth as an economic opportunity for Virginia.

“People who obtain a license will pay money into the state every year,” Surovell said. “They will then pay licensing fees which pay for roads, infrastructure and all kinds of things.”

Kory said Virginians would benefit economically as well.

“As more people become insured, premiums will decrease for everyone across the state,” she said.

Providing driver’s licenses to all immigrants isn’t anything new: Thirteen states already allow immigrants both legal and undocumented to drive in their states provided they meet minimum requirements.

According to the Commonwealth Institute, since 1994, the early adopter states have seen traffic fatalities drop more than 30 percent, compared with a nationwide 20 percent decrease.

By Brian Williams/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.

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