Why Arkansas Should Allow Undocumented Immigrants to Purchase Driver’s Licenses

Many Americans do not realize the value of having a driver’s license unless it is taken away due to getting too many points on their record or criminal charges such as a DUI/DWI.  Yet, the ability to drive to work, pick up your kids, or go visit friends is life changing.  This is especially true in many cities in Arkansas where homes and businesses are spread out and difficult to walk or bike between and where public transportation is often minimal.  A driver’s license is also valuable because insurance companies require you to have a valid driver’s license in order to purchase car insurance.  As we have discussed in previous articles, insurance is an indispensable asset that every driver should have and even driving with reduced insurance is a liability.  But, there is a large segment of drivers in Arkansas and elsewhere in the U.S. who are not eligible to acquire a driver’s license or the auto insurance a driver's license would allow them to purchase. 

Undocumented immigrants are not able to get a driver’s license in 38 states including Arkansas.  Twelve states and D.C. do offer a driver’s license for undocumented immigrants.  These states are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont and Washington.  States that allow undocumented immigrants to purchase driver’s licenses not only provide a benefit to immigrants who are less likely to feel the stress associated with driving without a license, they also provide a benefit to citizen drivers in the state.  Citizens who are involved in car accidents with undocumented immigrants in states where immigrants can have a license are more likely to encounter an immigrant who has insurance.  This means that under-insured citizen drivers or those without uninsured motorist coverage will be less likely to have to pay damages and personal injury expenses out of pocket.  Given the large percentage of Americans that fall in these categories (see our earlier article on the subject), making it possible for immigrant drivers to get insurance could have a huge impact on the economic security of citizen drivers. 

One concern citizens might have is that undocumented immigrants could use a driver’s license to receive benefits or privileges, such as voting, that they are not eligible for.  But, this is not an issue because of the Real ID Act.  This law requires states that issue a driver’s license to non-citizens to indicate that it is not valid for federal purposes (so it also won’t allow you to board a plane).  States that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses have statements on the license such as, “Not valid for identification” to indicate that the license is not valid for Real ID purposes. 

Another criticism is that undocumented immigrants will not obtain a driver’s license or insurance even if it becomes available because of the cost and because they will be afraid of providing their information to the DMV in order to obtain the license.  However, immigrants evaluating whether the cost is justified face the same economic calculation citizens make and statistics show that the majority of citizens decide purchasing at least minimal insurance is worth the expense.  As for the fear of turning over information, this is a legitimate concern but one that is easily remedied.  All that needs to be done is for the statute allowing undocumented immigrants to acquire a license to state that the DMV is not to submit the status of the licensee to the police.  

Another monetary concern is that the cost for the state to create the license is higher than the $20 generally charged to acquire a license or that providing a pathway to a license would cause Arkansas to be inundated with undocumented applicants from other states.  First, since these licenses are not able to be Real ID compliant, they can be made at a lower quality and, therefore, at a lower cost.  Alternatively, the statute can simply set the amount an undocumented immigrant must pay for the license at the actual cost of producing the card to insure the state does not bear the cost of providing the license.  Second, the concern regarding out of state applicants can be remedied in the same way that Washington addressed the issue.  The law should simply require that applicants for the special license provide proof of Arkansas residency via a bank statement, vehicle title, or some other documentation. Documents such as cell phone bills or cable bills would not be accepted because of the ease with which someone can sign up and then cancel these services.

In conclusion, the benefits of enabling undocumented immigrants to obtain a license far outweigh the minimal costs.  Even if only a few hundred of the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in Arkansas took the opportunity to obtain a license and insurance, the savings to Arkansas citizens could be in the seven-figure range.  Arkansas legislature should strongly consider passing a law which would enable undocumented persons to obtain a license and car insurance in the next session.  

Nathan Bogart is an attorney in Northwest Arkansas who focuses on immigration law.  If you would like to meet with him to discuss your case, please contact the Joyce Law Firm to schedule a consultation. 

Joyce Law Firm was founded in 2002 by Kirk Joyce.  Each of the attorneys at the Joyce Law Firm focus in specific areas of law, including, but not limited to: personal injury, immigration, criminal defense, family law, and business law.  Contact the Joyce Law Firm today at 479-442-5577.  More about Joyce Law Firm


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