In the recent Democratic presidential candidates debate Chris Dodd jumped all over Hillary Clinton for saying that there were good reasons for issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. “Driving is a privilege, not a right,” Chris Dodd thundered. Apparently Chris Dodd thinks that a driver’s license is a reward we hand out for good behavior, similar perhaps to a "Medal of Freedom" or a "Key to the City." Is that the purpose of a driver’s license?
Illegal immigrants have come here to work. In most places in the country, including where I live in the Quad Cities, the only way to get to most jobs, is to drive. As long as we have illegal immigrants here working they are going to be driving and if they are not allowed to get driver’s licenses they are going to be driving unlicensed. Although illegal immigrants are routinely stopped and ticketed by the police for driving without a license they just pay the fine and continue driving. What else can they do? They need to work. (If you are unaware how many immigrants the police ticket every day for driving without a license you might want to go down to your local traffic court and hang out for a few hours.) Since they have to pay a fine (starting at $75-$100 for the first offense and going up) every time they are caught driving without a license most of them would get a driver’s license if they were permitted to do so. If having liability insurance was a requirement to get a license they would get that also. It would still be cheaper than the fines they are currently paying.
Also notice that the only options on the table are continuing the present situation of forcing illegal immigrants to drive unlicensed or granting them driver’s licenses. There is no third option. We have an estimated more than 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. Whole industries are dependent on their labor and it would have serious negative effects on our economy if they were to somehow suddenly disappear. Since most of them have Social Security taxes withheld from their pay but will never collect any benefits some people think having large numbers of illegal immigrants working in the United States is vital for the continued viability of the Social Security program, especially with all the baby boomers set to retire. There is no option in the reality-based world for immediately deporting illegal immigrants the moment they come to a policeman’s or other government official’s attention. That is not any more likely to happen than, say, closing down all coal-fired power plants because of the green-house gases they emit.
So which of those two options would benefit you the most? Is punishing illegal immigrants more important than having fewer unlicensed, uninsured, unidentified drivers sharing the road with you?