Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Immigrants a Hot Topic in New England; Would Issuing Such Licenses be Breaking Federal Law?

Posted by erik devaney

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What rights should state governments afford the illegal immigrants living within their borders? If one takes the most conservative stance on the issue, the answer is a simple one: none. After all, these people are here illegally. On that basis, states shouldn’t be rewarding illegal immigrants with the rights afforded to full-fledged citizens; instead, states should be punishing such immigrants for breaking the law.

Of course, there are many more layers to this complex issue. For example, many illegal immigrants have had children in the states, which makes the kids citizens. By refusing certain rights to illegal immigrants, it could be their children – U.S. citizens – who end up suffering. In addition, many children are brought across the border by their families and become illegal immigrants by no fault of their own. By refusing these illegal immigrants rights, some feel that states are unjustly punishing innocent children.

Governor Chafee

In New England, the issue of illegal immigrant rights is reaching a fever pitch. Most recently, Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island caused a stir when he announced that he is considering the possibility of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. If such a proposal went through, Rhode Island would be the first state in New England – and only the fourth state in the country – to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The other three states are New Mexico, Utah and Washington.

Governor Chafee made the comment about driver’s licenses while responding to questions about a recent vote by Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education. The Board approved in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, making Rhode Island the second state in New England – after Connecticut – to approve such a measure. While this recent announcement about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants already had many Rhode Island citizens crying foul, Chafee’s comments about driver’s licenses added more fuel to a growing fire.

According to Chafee, allowing illegal immigrants to drive would help them get to school and get to work; and would also help them look for jobs. However, according to Senate Republicans, such a measure would only serve to make Rhode Island a more enticing destination for illegal immigrants who are looking for states to settle down in.  Republican senator, Francis T. Maher, went so far as to call Chafee’s driver’s license proposal an “insult to the Rhode Island citizen and taxpayer.”

Rhode Islanders are voicing their disapproval of the driver’s license proposal on Internet message boards, with many sharing the same outlook: first in-state tuition, next driver’s licenses, where will it stop? Eventually — it seems to concerned Rhode Islanders — illegal immigrants will be able to cash in on all of the same benefits as citizens, with one glaring difference between the two groups: undocumented, illegal immigrants don’t have to pay income taxes.

Apart from the ethical and financial issues associated with issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in New England, there is also the issue of federal law. Maine Governor, Paul LePage, points to the fact that allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses would be contradictory to federal immigration law.

Governor LePage

“The Governor would oppose such a move to grant licenses to illegal immigrants,” LePage’s press secretary, Adrienne A. Bennett, told New England Post. “Governor LePage signed an executive order on January 6th referring to cooperation between State and Federal law enforcement officials pertaining to illegal immigrants. If a state provides legal recognition to illegal immigrants, that undermines enforcement of federal law.”

Specifically, issuing licenses to illegal immigrants undermines the Real ID Act. Announced in 2005, the act requires that an applicant show proof of legal immigration status in the United States in order to obtain a driver’s license from any state. If a person is issued a license without meeting the immigration requirement, that license will not be accepted as a valid form of legal identification (which is required for boarding airplanes and entering federal buildings).

The rights afforded to illegal immigrants will, undoubtedly, continue to be a hot-button issue both in New England and around the country. While some New England states — like Maine — are working towards eliminating their statuses as “sanctuary” states, others — like Rhode Island — are moving in the opposite direction.  So, New England Post readers, which direction is the right one? Should New England states allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, or should we reserve that right for legal, U.S. citizens?

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  4. Is Unemployment Decreasing in New England? A Look at New England’s August Unemployment Rates
  5. Scant Interest in Rhode Island Civil Unions

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Posted by erik devaney on Oct 3 2011. Filed under General, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Immigrants a Hot Topic in New England; Would Issuing Such Licenses be Breaking Federal Law?”

  1. adelia Pages

    It is very easy to solve the problem about income taxes for illegal immigrants… once they are issued a drivers license a special number should be attached to that license to serve as a tax payer id and any illegal will be more than happy to pay. Duh!!!!.. more revenue for the country and state .

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