Driver Licenses For All
In May 2005, under a rushed and undemocratic process, 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. Despite community efforts led by Voces de la Frontera to block implementation, the state of Wisconsin passed a state law in March 2006 entitled Act 126, which took effect on April 1, 2007, in anticipation of the REAL ID Act. Under Act 126, undocumented immigrants and people who do not have a social security number can no longer renew or obtain a driver’s license or state identification. Since then, the struggle to restore state driver licenses and state IDs for immigrants has been an ongoing struggle in Wisconsin and nationally.
A lack of access to driver’s licenses is not limited to undocumented individuals, however. Low-income US citizens, especially people of color, 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, Brown and low income working class drivers, fueling mass incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, and creating barriers for people to access healthcare, school and other vital services that require an ID.
Throughout his first four year term as Governor of Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers has championed the restoration of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. In response to the community, Governor Evers included restoring state driver licenses and IDs to immigrants twice in his two-year state budget proposals. Unfortunately, the gerrymandered, Republican-led State Legislature has blocked Evers’s efforts to restore driver licenses for immigrants, by voting it out of the state budget or opposing standalone legislation.
Winning drivers licenses for all would not just benefit immigrants, it would have a major impact on all Wisconsinites. The Wisconsin Budget Project, an initiative of Kids Forward, noted in their Widen the Roads report 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.
We continue to work with Governor Evers and pressuring 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. To achieve this goal will require a year-round bottom up organizing effort to lobby our state legislators, continued participation in the electoral arena to support candidates that support access to driver licenses, and building alliances with others to challenge discriminatory policies that undermine public safety. After decades of organizing, there is broad community support for restoring driver licenses for immigrants that cuts across party lines. We will not stop fighting to restore driver licenses for all that include strong privacy protections that guarantees information won’t be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until it is won.