Why Give Drivers’ Licenses to Illegals?
Jim Harper has a good post up on Cato regarding the debate over whether illegal immigrants should have driver’s licenses.
The right answer here isn’t obvious, but it is important.
Many people believe that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be “rewarded” with drivers’ licenses. Fair enough: the rule of law is important. There’s also a theory that denying illegal immigrants “benefits” like driver licensing will make the country inhospitable enough that they will leave. This has not borne out, however. Denying illegal immigrants licenses has merely caused unlicensed and untrained driving, with the hit-and-run accidents and higher insurance rates that flow from that.
The major reason, though, why I agree with Senator Obama is because the linking of driver licensing and immigration status is part of the move to convert the driver’s license into a national ID card. Mission-creep at the country’s DMVs is not just causing growth in one of the least-liked bureaucracies. It’s creating the infrastructure for direct regulatory control of individuals by the federal government.
Were immigration status and driver licensing solidly linked nationwide, the driver’s license would not just be a “benefit” of citizenship. It would then clearly be amenable to use as an immigration-control tool — as has already been proposed. Law-abiding, native-born citizens would more and more often be required to show ID. And it would be converted to additional uses. The federal government could condition our access to goods, services, and infrastructure on carrying and presenting a national ID, possession of which the government could make conditional on every regulatory whim that swept past.
I agree with this point on several counts. Frankly, I think it’s obvious that making driver’s licenses simply a license to drive, rather than an immigration tool, is going to have bad effects on driving. Moreover, I think that Harper is absolutely on the money that the more we can do to stop the march of driver’s licenses becoming national ID’s is a good one, although probably a lost cause.
During World War II, American audiences would hiss in movie theaters at Germans and other unsavory totalitarians demanding “Papers, please” for routine transactions and travel. Nowadays, I probably whip out my driver’s license serveral times a week in order to accomplish every day tasks, and I’m irked pretty much every time I do. Nobody else seems to much mind, though.
One of the worst things about the Know-Nothing anti-illegal immigration crowd is that virtually all of the measures proposed by them to “secure the border” ends up making the country a less free place to be. I am livid at the fact that I now need a passport just to go to Canada–one of our staunchest allies and trade partners. I feel like a criminal every time I get a new job and an employer has to run a background and immigration check to make sure that I’m a citizen. I was positively appalled at the antics of the INS against a friend of mine from New Zealand (another staunch ally and trade partner) regarding his visa conditions, when all he wants to do is go to college here.
Robert Heinlein famously bristled whenever he was asked to show ID for small matters, and once said through his character Lazarus Long that, “When a place gets crowded enough to require ID’s, social collapse is not far away. It is time to go elsewhere. The best thing about space travel is that it made it possible to go elsewhere.”
Unfortunately, we don’t yet have the option of space travel. We’ve got plenty of people, though, who are so terrified at the prospect of hard-working immigrants coming into this country without the proper papers (horrors!) that they’re willing to create a police state to stop them.