Current Texas law forbids the Department of Public Safety from issuing a driver’s license or a personal identification certificate to anyone incapable of proving their citizenship or legal immigrant status in the United States. Recently introduced House Bill 3206 would change that.
Sponsored by Representative Robert Alonzo (D-Dallas), the legislation strikes from the Texas Transportation Code portions of Section 521.142 demanding “an applicant who is not a citizen of the United States must present to the department documentation issued by the appropriate United States agency that authorizes the applicant to be in the United States before the applicant may be issued a driver’s license.” It also adds a provision stating “no other citizenship evidentiary requirement should be imposed” in the licensing approval process. In plain terms, this means the state of Texas will no longer ask individuals applying for a driver’s license about their legal status.
Section 521.171 of the Texas Transportation Code is amended to strike out the portion which mandates license expiration for non-citizens as soon as there is “expiration of the license holder’s lawful presence in the United States.” Now if an illegal immigrant obtains a driver’s license in Texas it will remain current even when his or her permission to be in the United States doesn’t.
There are reports that the bill creates special types of licensing for illegal immigrants, clearly distinguishable from regular licenses. However, the text of the legislation itself simply rolls back legal residency as condition of obtaining all types of licenses, including provisional and occupational. There is no new system or process created, going by the text of HB 3206 posted here.
Proponents of the measure argue that bans on licenses aren’t preventing illegal from driving, so current policy is flawed. Fear of apprehension and deportation gives illegals a greater incentive to flee from the scenes of accidents and a disincentive to offer roadside assistance. Allowing these people legal permission to drive would create more responsible motorists and safer roads, or so goes the argument.
This is an example of the messes the federal government’s negligence on immigration enforcement leaves states to clean up. There are a large number of people driving on Texas roads who do not have the right to be here. The federal government refuses to remove them; however, Texas cannot enforce immigration policy and has to find some way to deal with the fallout of its large illegal population, driving without insurance and without proper licensing.
The reasoning behind allowing illegal immigrants legal driving rights may have some merit, but these licenses must be clearly differentiated from regular ones. Those favoring HB 3206 keep saying this is the case, but the text of the law as its currently posted does not include these provisions. State issued driver’s licenses are critical documents, opening the door to voter registration and a host of public and private services. Until the distinction between driver’s licenses is made clear, this measure should be resisted.