Driver's Licenses for People in the U.S. Illegally: The Debate Explained

The driver’s license is often a symbol of freedom, especially if you’re a teen getting one for the first time. So PBS NewsHour student reporters from Northview High School in Southern California decided to investigate the debate happening around the country over whether people living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to get driver’s licenses.

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What are the arguments for allowing people who are in the United States Illegally to get driver’s licenses?

Some of the main arguments for providing driver's licenses include that it makes roads safer. Just because someone is not allowed to get a driver’s license doesn’t mean they aren’t driving anyway, so if you allow people who are already driving to apply for and get a license-- that means that they have to pass a driving test, and they can buy car insurance. This policy has also been shown to reduce hit and run accidents. There are also moral arguments that people who are living here regardless of their immigration status still need access to basic needs, like  school, doctors, and groceries-- and in many places you need a car to access those things. There are also slight economic benefits to states by collecting more license and registration fees. 

What are some arguments against allowing people who are in the U.S. illegally to get driver’s licenses? 

According to several polls, granting driver’s licenses to people in the U.S. illegally is not very popular. Some people see it as rewarding illegal behavior, and it’s not fair to others who have gone through the proper legal process to live here. Additionally, there is concern that this type of legislation could lead to identity and voter fraud or that it could encourage more illegal immigration.  

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What states allow people in the U.S. illegally to apply for driver’s licenses?

There are currently 13 states and DC that allow people who are here illegally to get a driver’s license. This type of driver’s license is different than REAL ID, and does not allow people to board planes, get into federal buildings or visit nuclear power plants. The states where you can get this ID include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

Selected Sources:

Measuring illegal immigration: How Pew Research Center counts unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. (Pew Research Center) 

State’s Offering Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants

Providing driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants in California improves traffic safety (PNAS) 

Impacts of Licensing Unauthorized Immigrants An overview of available research (Pew Charitable Trusts) 

August 2019 Harvard-Harris Poll

Quinnipiac: Voters in New York Oppose Drivers' Licenses for Illegal Aliens 

How many undocumented immigrants are in the United States and who are they? (Brookings Institute)

Resources on Voter Fraud Claims (Brennan Center)

Election Fraud Cases from Across the United States