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Nevada, Connecticut to Allow Undocumented Immigrants to Drive

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Update: Also congratulations to Connecticut for moving forward with a bill that will soon protect undocumented immigrants who report crime.

All attention for immigration legislation is on the Gang of 8 reform bill that’s soon to hit the Senate floor—but major changes that could benefit immigrants’ lives are also happening at the state level.  Last week, both Connecticut and Nevada authorized immigrants living in the state to begin applying and testing for driving rights.

Currently, most states do not allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive, a policy that is changing as more and more states realize that allowing immigrants to drive is a key safety issue.  Immigrants who are allowed to apply for driving rights are also required to take a driver’s test and purchase insurance, which means that roads become safer for everyone and insurance premiums go down.  As Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy said in a statement last week:

This bill is first and foremost about public safety. It’s about knowing who is driving on our roads, and doing everything we can to make sure those drivers are safe and that they’re operating registered, insured vehicles.  There’s a reason these measures have been supported by local police and city leaders, and that other states are taking similar common-sense steps. They’re changes that benefit everyone taking a car out onto our roads and highways.

The Connecticut bill allows immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses and passed the state senate last Thursday on a 19-16 vote.  Governor Malloy has pledged to sign the bill, which will make 54,000 immigrants in Connecticut eligible for a license starting in 2015.

In Nevada, where Hispanic residents are over a quarter of the population, Governor Brian Sandoval has just signed the law allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s privilege cards.  The renewable driving cards would be valid for a year, and immigrants are eligible at the start of 2014.

Connecticut’s Governor Malloy has also called on the federal government to allow all immigrants nationwide to apply for driving licenses, saying:

It should also be noted that, like many issues, action on the federal level would address this problem in an even more comprehensive and sensible way. I continue to support those broader efforts at national reform, and urge Congress to follow the example being set by Connecticut and other states.

Connecticut and Nevada join Maryland, Illinois, and Oregon as states that all adopted similar immigrant driving provisions this year.  New Mexico, Washington, and Utah have all for years allowed immigrants living in their states to drive.  A much narrower category of immigrants—the DREAMers recognized by President Obama’s deferred action (DACA) program—are eligible for driver’s licenses and privileges in nearly all states.