Tuesday's approval of a Washington D.C. bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license will no doubt bring the focus back to Arizona and other states that have yet to pass similar legislation. The passage of this bill, in effect, brings increased scrutiny to Arizona and the state's current immigration policies.
The D.C. bill will allow for undocumented aliens living in the D.C. area to apply for and obtain a special type of driver's license as early as May. With this passage, D.C. will now join other states such as California and Maryland that have also extended this right to its undocumented alien residents.
While many immigrant advocates find this news to be a move in the right direction, others consider the law to be a catalyst for further discrimination. Undocumented immigrants will soon have the right to get a driver's license, but it will be a special category and the license itself is clearly different in appearance.
This license grants driving privileges, but the license will not provide undocumented immigrants with certain federal benefits. For example, this license doesn't permit the individual to do something as simple as boarding a plane.
Nevertheless, advocates find the passage of this bill to mean that real change is indeed coming. Once an undocumented immigrant secures this new license, he will then be able to take his children to school, visit a doctor, and get to and from work safely without the threat of being stopped by police and inevitably be charged with any number of offenses.
With this new type of government issued I.D., undocumented immigrants will be more likely to find work, own cars, and generally become productive members of society.
As previously mentioned, Arizona is one of many states that continues to forbid undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver's license. In fact, Arizona just recently extended the original ban denying these individuals the right to receive a state issued driver's license.
This Arizona policy even extends to those immigrants that have been granted residency because of humanitarian reasons. This includes those affected by domestic violence and those victimized by sexual exploitation and/or human trafficking.
Arizona's policy initially came on the heels of President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan in June of 2012. This program is meant to allow for deferred action on the part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when it comes to undocumented young people who arrived in the U.S. as young children and have since pursued education or military service here.
After DACA was introduced, Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, was quoted as saying it was “deferred amnesty” and claimed that no one covered under this policy would receive a driver's license in Arizona. Immigration advocates quickly rallied against this mandate and argued it was a violation of equal protection. This lawsuit is currently pending, but a federal judge has implied that the plaintiffs in the case will most likely prevail. This is good news to those in Arizona that strive for further legislation committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of both documented and undocumented immigrants.
In the meantime, it seems Arizona will continue to back away from any bills that seek to enable undocumented immigrants to obtain a state issued driver's license. But with neighbors like California embracing such laws, it will inevitably become an increasingly popular topic of conversation in the state.