Wisconsin Coalition for Safe Roads: Why Driving Cards Make Sense


In May 2005 the United States Congress passed the REAL ID Act, in an emergency appropriations bill, which required all states to check for a person’s 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. Wisconsin’s Act 126 requires driver’s license applicants to demonstrate proof of citizenship, legal permanent or conditional residency, a valid visa, an application for asylum, valid refugee status or an application for legal permanent residency. Their licenses would expire when their residency runs out. Undocumented immigrants and persons with legal status who do not have a social security number could not obtain a driver’s license or identification.

Unfortunately, Act 126 did not include provisions available under The REAL ID Act that allows states to issue driver’s licenses certificates/cards to people who do not have a social security number. This driver’s card could not be used for federal purposes, which under REAL ID is defined as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building, and on it’s surface must state that it is “not accepted by any federal agency for federal identification,” but could be used for driving and obtaining insurance.

Though the Wisconsin Coalition for Safe Roads, on principle, does not support the principle of a two-tiered system of identification; till there is a repeal of REAL ID and/or legalization by the federal government; we believe that the state government must, in the interim, provide a drivers’ license card option for Wisconsin residents to ensure public safety on our roads, protect valuable tax dollars in a weak economy, and challenge the racial profiling and consumer fraud that has occurred in the wake of Act 126.

In December of 2005 members of the Coalition for Safe Roads, organized a spirited and diverse opposition to Act 126 (previously known as AB69/SB334). From mid-December of 2005 to January 17th of 2006 the coalition organized 4 mobilizations to the State Capitol which involved over 4,000 multi-racial people that rallied to defend the public safety on Wisconsin’s roads. In the wake of the November 2008 elections, members of the Coalition for Safe Roads reconvened at a meeting on January 13, 2009 with the goal of introducing language in the Governor’s budget that would allow for the drivers’ license certificate option.

Why should the Governor include the Drivers’ License Certificate option in the State budget?

The Financial Cost

REAL ID is an unfunded mandate. A joint report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governor’s Association, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators issued in June of 2005 estimates that implementation of the REAL ID Act in Wisconsin and other states could cost up to $11.1 billion over the course of five years. As a consequence, there is growing opposition by states to implement REAL ID altogether. Since 2005 42 states considered legislation that either opposed REAL ID or urged Congress to amend or repeal the act. As of April 17, 2008 anti-REAL ID measures passed in 21 states. Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington passed bills expressly forbidding state agencies from complying with REAL ID.

Immigrants contribute to Wisconsin’s Department of Motor Vehicles by paying fees that keep our roads safe and in good condition. The insurance and automotive industries, among many others, will suffer the loss of business from thousands of immigrants living in the state of Wisconsin. Licensed drivers must pay higher premiums for accidents and injuries caused by unlicensed drivers.

Unlicensed Drivers & Public Safety

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety describes unlicensed drivers as “among the worst drivers on the road” and found that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are validly licensed drivers.”

Four of six states that provide licenses to undocumented immigrants fall below the national average for uninsured motorists (The National Underwriter, Nov. 14, 2007).Unlicensed drivers are unable to secure insurance, and uninsured drivers are less likely to stick around after an accident.

Under the previous system in Wisconsin, undocumented immigrants applying for a driver’s license or state identification card provided information about their real identity and their background was available to law enforcement. Undocumented immigrants are more fearful in approaching local law enforcement if they are victims or witnesses to crimes; taking local law enforcement longer to apprehend or stop violent criminals.

National Security

Congress had already addressed state driver’s licenses vulnerabilities by writing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations into the Intelligence Reform Act and passing it. That law includes important measures to protect against identity theft and verifying the authenticity of documents of drivers’ license applicants.
The 9/11 Commission did not recommend that immigrants should be denied drivers’ licenses; and it did not argue that states should be relieved of their traditional role in determining who is eligible for a driver’s license. Security experts have consistently affirmed that it is counterproductive to deny undocumented immigrants’ driver’s licenses because denying them identification just increases the size of the pool of unknown individuals for law enforcement to sort out. Indeed, all of the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States legally and, unlike low-income working class families, had financial and legal resources to carry out their actions.

Increase in Fraud

The need for driver’s licenses, as predicted, has resulted in the growth of consumer fraud schemes with the sale of “international drivers’ licenses” which has resulted in the fraud of low-income families who believe they are purchasing– at high prices– valid documents, clogging up our court systems unnecessarily, and diverting scarce law-enforcement resources from saving lives.

Wisconsin Communities, Wisconsin Values

Immigrants have jobs and families that make driving a necessity. Persons without the proper documentation are forced to drive without a license or with false documents. Restricting driving licenses does not solve the problem of our broken immigration system. To resolve this problem, the US Congress and the President must pass federal immigration reform that addresses the failure of our current immigration system and trade policies, which have created both the forced migration of workers and farmers to the US and the lack of legal avenues that have created the crisis in our current system. There has been a consequent increase in racial profiling against immigrants, permanent residents and US citizens. We want to live in a State that upholds the dignity of all persons and places the interests of public safety and community first; and does not give ground to hate mongering and suspicion.

What can I do?

Call for the Implementation of a Driving Privilege Card Program in the Governor’s budget. A similar measure passed in the Utah State Legislature in March 2005. This driving card, valid for driving only, is available to those who meet the state’s residency requirements but do not qualify for a social security number. Undocumented immigrants provide their real identities and can continue driving legally. A 2006 audit confirms its effectiveness. Among 2,500 people with driving privilege cards, 75 percent had automobile insurance. Among another 2,500 licensed drivers, 81 percent were insured.

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