Not many states grant drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants. Washington, New Mexico, and Utah are the only states that grant the licenses.
Earlier this week, the Washington State legislature introduced a number of bills to potentially prevent these licenses.
When I am not working as a lawyer on immigration issues, I enjoy taking a hard look at issues that affect our country. The following is an imaginary discussion of the pros and cons of the proposed Washington bills.
Advocate in favor of the new legislation: Awarding a license to undocumented immigrants rewards a group of people who entered into the US without lawful inspection. We want to encourage obedience to our laws, not reward illegal behavior.
Someone against the new legislation: How severe should the punishment be for undocumented immigrants? Taking away someone's driver's license takes away a person's freedom. Taking away someone's license for unlawful entry into the US is not an appropriate punishment. Should an average American be put in prison for running a red light? A punishment must be reasonable.
Pro: Unlawful entry is a serious problem and we need strict laws to discourage it. Our country has around 13 million undocumented immigrants. In the recession, we need to hold jobs open for Americans first, immigrants second. If driving licenses repel immigrants, then we save jobs.
Against: First, America is a nation founded on immigrants, both legal and illegal immigrants, so a high number of undocumented immigrants does not undermine America's standing. Our society has benefited from the differences and hard work many immigrants bring to the US. Many undocumented immigrants do labor-intensive jobs that Americans will not typically do. The money they earn and spend is deserved and helpful to our economy.
Pro: No, immigrants take away jobs that Americans have a right to get. America is also a nation that values the law. We need to enforce our immigration laws, else we undermine our justice system.
Against: If undocumented immigrants are able to get drivers' licenses, then they may feel more responsible to obey laws and pay taxes with an ITIN number.
Pro: We can all use tax dollars, but most undocumented immigrants won't pay them. One major reason is because they want to keep a low profile. Sending in a tax form requires disclosure, even if there is confidentiality protections for ITIN holders.
Against: We should focus our energies on getting undocumented immigrants to come of the shadow and pay taxes. We cannot possibly deport 13 million people. Many of these people are decent, hard-working people who follow the law more closely than American citizens . . .
Let's keep talking.