By Gregory B. Hladky
3:20 PM EST, January 8, 2013
Let's say you got into an accident with another vehicle while driving your car in New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport or somewhere else in Connecticut.
Would you rather have that collision with A) an undocumented immigrant with no driver's license, registration or car insurance who is desperately afraid to have police involved; or B) an undocumented immigrant who has all those things and is comfortable calling in the cops?
If the answer is B, you're probably going to like a new legislative proposal to allow those sorts of immigrants to apply for state driver's licenses if they can prove they are residents and have no felonies on their record.
On the other hand, if you hate the idea of giving any illegal immigrants any form of legal state identification like a driver's license, you may want to consider what to do about the estimated 54,000 undocumented immigrants who may be driving on our roads and highways right now.
"I'm sure there will be opposition, I'm sure there will be controversy," says state Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney of New Haven, one of the lawmakers supporting the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for state driver's licenses.
There could also be some problems with the feds. Depending on how Connecticut would do it, issuing state driver's licenses could conflict with tough federal identification requirements that were passed after 9/11. One issue involves what type of identification is needed to be able to fly in an airliner.
"There may be a lot of federal ifs, ands or buts that go along with that," says Michael Lawlor, top law enforcement adviser to Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Father James Manship of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven says Connecticut already has a special type of license that isn't valid for federal identification purposes, and that's the type that could be issued to undocumented immigrants.
He says research indicated that "it is permissible for states to give licenses to undocumented immigrants."
Malloy has already given Connecticut motor vehicle officials the go-ahead to issue licenses to young immigrant "Dreamers" who qualify for President Obama's new policy for dealing with people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and have lived here ever since.
Last year, Obama issued an executive order that protects such young immigrants (people under age 30 who arrived in the U.S. before they were 15) from being deported simply because they are undocumented. In order to qualify for the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" credentials, an immigrant has to supply a lot of information and documentation to prove when they arrived and that they've been in residence in the U.S. since, and have no felonies on their records.
By some estimates, there may be as many as 2,000 Connecticut "Dreamers" who could apply for licenses. "No one has those [federal deferment] credentials yet, but we're expecting some to show up soon," Lawlor says.
Lawlor is quick to add that these young undocumented immigrants will cease to be "illegal" once they are granted deferred-action status under the Obama administration policy, and would thus become eligible for Connecticut driver's licenses. "We're not going to give driver's licenses to 'illegal aliens,'" says Lawlor.
The campaign to win General Assembly approval for more comprehensive state legislation that would let other undocumented immigrants get state driver's licenses kicked off Sunday with a rally in New Haven.
Looney, one of several key Democratic lawmakers who attended the rally, argues the experience of Washington and New Mexico proves the policy of allowing immigrants to get state licenses is far safer and far less costly for everyone. Those states have had laws allowing immigrants to apply for driver's licenses for years.
Utah also allows undocumented immigrants to get a special driving permit, but that isn't allowed for use as formal identification. Illinois lawmakers are now considering permitting undocumented immigrants in their state to get driver's licenses.
"These are people who want to drive responsibly, who want to get licenses and car insurance," Looney says of most undocumented immigrants in this state.
Advocates of the idea point out that allowing immigrants to get licenses means they have to pass motor vehicle tests, both written and on the road, to prove they can drive safely and understand the laws. With a license, they can get car insurance, which means their insurance coverage would share in the costs of many accident situations rather than have the other driver's uninsured-motorist coverage pick up the entire tab for a collision.
The group that has launched this campaign on behalf of undocumented immigrants is called CONECT, for Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut.
Members of the group estimate the state could see $2 million in new revenue from resulting motor vehicle fees and perhaps $20 million in new revenue for insurance companies from immigrant drivers.
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