Driver’s Licenses

In May 2005 the U.S. Congress passed the REAL ID Act, requiring all states to check immigration status before issuing a driver’s licenses or state ID, and to only issue driver’s licenses to persons who are US citizens or have legal status. The state of Wisconsin, in anticipation of the REAL ID Act, passed a state law in March 2006 entitled Act 126, which took effect on April 1, 2007. Under Act 126, undocumented immigrants and people who do not have a social security number can no longer obtain a driver’s license or state identification.   

A lack of access to driver’s licenses is not limited to undocumented individuals, however. Low-income US citizens have also been affected by stringent laws that limit access to affordable driver’s education and penalize those who do not have the funds to pay their traffic and parking tickets. In 2016, 60% of license suspensions were due to unpaid fines rather than infractions related to unsafe driving.These harsh practices have disproportionately criminalized Black and Latinx drivers.

During his campaign, Governor-elect Tony Evers expressed support for restoring access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, noting the community’s economic contributions to the state. The Wisconsin Budget Project, an initiative of the organization Kids Forward, noted the benefits of providing driver licenses to undocumented individuals, such as lower insurance costs for all drivers, greater access to gainful employment, and safer roads overall.

Read the full report here: Widen the Road: Removing Barriers to Driver License Eligibility Will Improve Safety, Support Families, and Boost Businesses.

We are urging Governor Evers and leadership in the Wisconsin state legislature to pass legislation restoring access to driver’s licenses for all regardless of immigration status, and ending the practice of suspending licenses solely due to inability to pay fines. This could be passed as part of the 2019-2021 state budget, or as standalone legislation.

Read the one-page fact sheet that summarizes the findings co-released by Kids Forward and Voces de la Frontera:

English: Widen the Road: Allowing All Immigrants Access to Driver Licenses Is a Win for Wisconsin

Español: Comparten las Calles: Ampliando el Acceso a las Licencias de Conducir Sería una Ganancia para Wisconsin

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Read our ‘Know Your Rights‘ briefing on the current REAL ID law requirements.

We are also monitoring implementation and spotlighting the inherent discrimination in the law. If you hold valid documents yet have experienced problems obtaining or renewing a license, please let us know. More…