Could Connecticut’s Approval Of Different Drivers’ Licenses For The Undocumented Bring Back Immigration Raids?

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On Thursday, the Connecticut state senate approved a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses. Once signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), immigrants will be able to obtain drivers’ licenses that are renewable every three years and marked “for driving purposes only.”

What remains to be seen is the number of immigrants who would want to apply for a license that noticeably differs from other identification cards. Six years ago, the city of New Haven rolled out a controversial municipal identification card called the “Elm City Resident Card,” which was uniformly issued to anyone who applied, but specifically designed to give undocumented immigrants a form of identification and to protect them from assaults. Instead, the resident card served to identify where undocumented immigrants lived or worked, and triggered retaliatory immigration raids, in which warrantless federal agents arrested 30 suspected undocumented immigrants who had applied for the cards.

Since 2006 when law enforcement officials were prohibited by a general order to inquire about immigration status, Connecticut has taken a ‘hands-off’ approach toward undocumented immigrants. Yet, a markedly different ID card, even one that has an additional “for driving purposes only” notation, could negate that progress and encourage immigrants to remain “hidden in the shadows” because they don’t want to be stigmatized as they were during New Haven debacle.

There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut, 54,000 of whom are expected to take advantage of this law once it takes effect on January 1, 2015. Some advocates in Connecticut believe that licensing undocumented immigrants is smart policy to keep well-trained, insuranced drivers on the road.

This year alone, Maryland, Illinois, Oregon have passed legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses.