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August 2016
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Why drivers’ licenses should not be tied to immigration status

Sigh. I just saw this ad online. I hesitate to even reproduce it here, but in the interest of visual aid for my commentary I guess I have to. So, a few thoughts:

1. Holy cow, the Obama in this photo is angry about something. And look how evil and threatening the guy in the driver’s license photo is. What is he, a space alien? OMG, and his name is Mohammed! Nice and subtle with the race baiting there. 

2. Can we please stop referring to people as “illegals”? It is incendiary and dehumanizing, and it encourages lazy thinking about the issue. 

3. And my main comment: Tying drivers’ licenses to immigration status is a bad idea for everyone.  This is how it works right now in Virginia and it is an awful situation.

  • DMV people are not immigration experts. For many people immigration status is complicated. This is true for people who are in the US on a student visa, or a temporary work permit, or for example, have moved from Canada to be with their American spouse (Causing both members of said marriage to question why why why did we think that was a good idea? … but I digress.) Legal, properly filed immigration paperwork is bloody complicated, and no one at the DMV has any idea what you’re talking about when you try to explain your H1B or whatever. Hell, I’ve had immigration officials misunderstand procedure pretty badly[1], and they do this thing every day; do we really think it’s a good idea to ask Patty and Selma to understand it?
  • More importantly, denying drivers’ licenses to people with illegal immigration status is dangerous to everyone on the road. I’ve written a bit about some of the folks I’ve met in the local Spanish-speaking immigrant community. Many of these folks are undocumented, but it’s pretty hard to make a living in this country without being able to drive, so most of them drive regardless. So, think about this… you have to pass a test to get a license. You have to show that you can see reasonably well, and that you have insurance, and that you know what the signs mean, and I really like knowing that the other drivers on the road had to learn the same rules I did. Do we want to create a situation where a hefty chunk of the population is excluded from that process? 
What do we gain by tying drivers’ licenses to immigration? We somewhat inconvenience undocumented immigrants, but not enough to prevent them from driving, and certainly not enough to prevent them from immigrating or convince them to leave[2]. In exchange, we get much more paperwork, headache, and expense for legal immigrants and DMV officials, more untested and uninsured drivers on the roads, and you’ve passed up a chance to keep a record of current addresses for a large, otherwise undocumented segment of the population. 
It’s no secret that I was already voting for Obama, but I just found yet another reason. Thanks, Republican party, for informing me about this excellent part of the Democratic platform!  
[1] This is true: I once had an immigration official at a border crossing tear up and throw away one of my legal documents, telling me I didn’t need it anymore because one of my other documents had now superseded it. Of course that destroyed document turned out to be vitally important, and it cost me hundreds of dollars and about six months of letter writing to get another copy. Grrrr. 
[2] I’m guessing that these are the goals of the scheme, or at least the stated goals. The practical goals seem to be “blame immigrants for our problems” and “make life harder for immigrants on general principle.”


Comment from bess
Time: October 25, 2008, 9:15 am

OMG, Ben, you’re right! Wow, that’s so embarrassing that I didn’t pick up on that. So the implication of the ad is, what? That if he hadn’t been able to get a driver’s license this somehow would have prevented 9/11? That seems pretty silly. I guess they’re just hoping no one will think this through and it’s just another way of juxtaposing Obama’s image with a terrorist, sending a message without having to state the message outright.

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