• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

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.

Related Posts:

About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. FireWolf says:

    You can’t have it both ways Alex. Driving in the United States is a privilege, not a right. So, by having a license to drive, you agree to sucumb to your states laws on driving responsibly, etc.

    Secondly, the purpose of a national ID card is to have a system to track who is and isn’t a citizen. I don’t agree with tightening down the straps on law abiding citizens to weed out the illegals but the government isn’t exactly running door to door to kick out the illegals now are they?

    Reasons for that is simple: money and warm bodies (I.E. Labor)

    They want the workers without going through proper channels and that is the cux of the illegal immigration debate.

    At least for most of us anti-illegal immigrant types.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. superdestroyer says:

    OK, the drivers license is only for driving and the U.S. can live without a picture, government issued I.D.

    Then how to you think the medical, banking, credit, and insurance industries are going to function.

    Identify theft will become so easy in such a society that a person would have to be insane to have a bank account, a credit card, or an insurance policy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  3. [...] Knapp puts it best at Outside The Beltway: One of the worst things about the Know-Nothing anti-illegal immigration crowd is that virtually all [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  4. Anne says:

    You righties are insane. I’d much rather someone have a drivers test and prove they could drive safely than have 12 million unlicensed drivers. And could someone please explain….what mechanism would remove all 12 million from the country. Find a compromise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  5. I don’t agree with tightening down the straps on law abiding citizens to weed out the illegals

    But isn’t that what most of these policies do? It isn’t as if one can construe policies that inconvenience only illegals.

    Part of the problem is that driver’s licenses are meant to insure that one has mastered the rules of the road and therefore ought to be allowed to operate a motor vehicle. They are not designed to safeguard bank accounts or to stop people from being in the US illegally.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Michael says:

    Then how to you think the medical, banking, credit, and insurance industries are going to function.

    How do the function now? A driver’s license doesn’t solve any of the problems in those industries.

    What would work is a verifiable, decentralized, unique identification system. Put all of a person’s identifying information on a card (magnetic strip, not in print), encrypt it once with the government’s private key, again with the individual’s public key, then print a name and hash of the unencrypted data on the card.

    If someone wants to verify your identity, you must first use a password (like you would a PIN) to undo your encryption (to verify you are the owner of the info), then they use the government’s key to decypt the data (to verify that the data comes from the government, and is not faked).

    The hash is used as a unique identifier that any company can use in their systems, instead of Social Security number. The has alone, while being unique, does not give any information about the individual it is associated with, nor would it be enough to verify the identity of a person.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. superdestroyer says:

    Try to open a bank account without an id. Try to write a check with a driver license. The government wants to use them as a method of Identification and businesses want to use them to demonstrate due diligence in preventing fraud.

    If you do not want to use the driver licenses, then you have to come up with a another government issued I.D. and that very tamper resistant and can be generally trusted.

    Anne,

    If you do not want to get rid of the current 12 million illegal aliens, then what are you planning on doing with the next 20 million after you give amnesty to the current ones.

    The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was a disaster that encouraged more illegal immigration. What do you propose to keep from doing it again?

    If you cannot get 12 million out then get out as many as possible. Indite them for every law they broke, punish them severely, and then deport them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. John425 says:

    “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.”

    This is a silly argument. Illegals are already driving without licenses and if they were to fail the driving test they wouldn’t stop driving; they’d continue on just as before.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Tlaloc says:

    Personally I don’t have a driver’s license anymoe (use public transport, soooooo much better). I’m pretty sure my Oregon ID card (a non-license license) is expired, I haven;t used it in months.

    Somehow I get by.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Boyd says:

    1) I agree that we shouldn’t be using state-issued drivers licenses as de facto national IDs. They should be used solely for their intended purpose: identifying those who have satisfied the requirements for driving legally.

    2) You want an ID, create an ID card. A national one. Only you can’t get one if you’re here illegally (as opposed to your euphemism, “…hard-working immigrants coming into this country without the proper papers (horrors!)…” If they broke our immigration laws entering the country, then they’re here illegally. Seems kinda obvious to me).

    3) Your (Alex and those of a similar mind) attempts to hide the truth by lumping all immigrants together, both legal and illegal, is as counterproductive as those of your opponents who call (shout? scream?) for extreme, unworkable measures to rid our country of illegals. You both end up talking past each other, and especially those of us closer to the middle who actually talk rationally about this subject.

    Come down off the ledge, Alex (and Anne), and stop misrepresenting those who disagree with you to falsely bolster your position. Discussing the subject honestly and rationally may actually produce solutions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. William d'Inger says:

    I’m pretty sure my Oregon ID card (a non-license license) is expired

    Expired? What’s up with that? After so many months you stop being you???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Tom Gruber says:

    There are many others besides “hard-working immigrants” coming into the country. Take a look at the FBI’s list of people wanted nationwide for murder:

    http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/fugitives/vc/murders/vc_murders.htm

    Mexican citizens make up 42% of the total and 84% of ALL foreign nationals on the list. That’s insane. The number of *Americans* on the list isn’t much different from the number of Mexicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Tlaloc says:

    Expired? What’s up with that? After so many months you stop being you???

    I’m the ghost in the system. Along with a secret decoder ring, all us anarchists get a special ATM code that shreds all the government’s records of us ever existing.

    ATMs can do that, didn’cha know?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Tano says:

    “Driving in the United States is a privilege, not a right.”

    An interesting frame, representing an authoritarian attitude. Once you conceive of something as a privilege, you set up the authority-subservient relationship. On the other hand, viewing driving as a regulated right is more in line with the notion of a free people, freely going about their lives, freely traveling using the technologies at hand, and granting to the government some power to regulate that activity, in terms of demanding proof of competence, to meet the limited goals of public safety. I prefer the latter frame.

    “So, by having a license to drive, you agree to sucumb to your states laws on driving responsibly, etc. ”

    That is true for either frame.

    “They want the workers without going through proper channels and that is the cux of the illegal immigration debate.”

    Not exactly. The proper channels – i.e. immigrant quota systems calibrated to the needs of our economy for unskilled, or low skilled labor, do not exist. THAT is the crux of the problem.

    The rational basis for setting immigrant quotas is the needs of the economy. But it is never politically popular to let in poor, unskilled workers. So the quotas are absurdly low, and the joint needs of business and the workers are realized outside the legal framework.

    The right is basically willing to use the government to snuff the life out of small business in this country by enforcing archaic and irrational quotas, for no other reason that the quotas exist at the level that they do. Why not just solve this problem by establishing legal channels for a sufficient number of people to come, given the needs of the economy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Tlaloc says:

    An interesting frame, representing an authoritarian attitude. Once you conceive of something as a privilege, you set up the authority-subservient relationship. On the other hand, viewing driving as a regulated right is more in line with the notion of a free people, freely going about their lives, freely traveling using the technologies at hand, and granting to the government some power to regulate that activity, in terms of demanding proof of competence, to meet the limited goals of public safety. I prefer the latter frame.

    Then pass an amendment saying driving is a right, cause until you do…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Tano says:

    cause until I do,,,what?

    I have no rights unless a Constitutional amendment specifies such a right? Is that your argument?

    Read the ninth amendment.
    Read Madison.
    Meditate on what being free means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Steve Plunk says:

    Tano, my man. It always feels funny when people like you and me agree on something. Like you say, the constitution reserved that right to the people first and the states second. It is a right but the power of government is turning into a privilege. That’s just wrong.

    We don’t have an amendment allowing us to ride a bike or make a living or do the normal things necessary for the pursuit of happiness. When will government get it? After we revoke our consent to be governed?

    The licenses for illegals is one of those things (of which there are many) that I doubt there is an answer for. Both sides of the argument make sense and all points are sound. My question is whether or not the government solutions will do more harm than good.

    Tlaloc, I never realized you are a fellow Oregonian. It’s a wonder we share the same state in peace.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. teqjack says:

    Anyone ever hear of the “motor voter” laws? No?

    Actually, a couple of much better fixes are mentioned at a link found at that Cato piece –
    http://www.freetrade.org/node/661

    We know from experience that legal immigration, if allowed, will crowd out illegal immigration. In the 1950s, the Bracero program allowed Mexican workers to enter the country temporarily, typically to work on farms in the Southwest. Early in that decade, illegal immigration was widespread because the program offered an insufficient number of visas to meet the labor demands of a growing U.S. economy. Instead of merely redoubling efforts to enforce a flawed law, Congress dramatically increased the number of visas to accommodate demand. The result: apprehensions of illegal entrants at the border soon dropped by more than 95 percent. Back then, as we could expect now, foreign-born workers rationally chose the legal path to entry when it was available. When the Bracero program was abolished in 1964, illegal immigration began an inexorable rise that continues to this day.

    It is far more difficult than necessary to be “legal” and since most “illegal” residents are gainfully employed and not particularly law-breaking other than by being here, re-start the “guest worker” program cancelled in the mid-Sixties and look at the “quota” system for actual naturalization immigration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Tlaloc says:

    cause until I do,,,what?

    I have no rights unless a Constitutional amendment specifies such a right? Is that your argument?

    You don’t have a definitive right, all you have is some supposed presumption of a right under the nebulous ninth. That and $3.50…

    So, as I said, if you want driving to be a right you need to pass an amendment, because until you do…

    (…nobody is going to give a damn about your opinion)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Tlaloc says:

    Tlaloc, I never realized you are a fellow Oregonian. It’s a wonder we share the same state in peace.

    Pretty much native. I was born in California but moved to Eugene (surprise!) when I was 2. Other than vacations and 6 months or so in the bay area I’ve been in Oregon ever since. I work in the Portland area now.

    In fact you can read my take on the upcoming Smith election here:
    The Smith Quandry

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Tano says:

    Tlaloc,

    I dont know quite what you mean by a “definitive” right.
    Let me walk you through my logic, so we can see where we might diverge.

    I dont need the permission of the government to walk in public, do I? Is it a privilege? I dont think so, and for the purpose of moving this discussion along, I will provisionally assume that you dont either. Correct me if I am wrong.

    Neither do I need permission to ride my bike. But when it comes to putting a big old engine ’round a heap of metal and barreling down the road at high speed, then maybe its no longer just about me, because my actions, or someone elses, can do great harm.

    In those cases we sense the need to bring some order into a chaotic and dangerous situation. We use the mechanisms of government to set some rules – rules of the road, speed limits etc., and to demand some level of competence in handling these machines.

    Thats it. A focused use of coercive communal power to achieve a social good – the enjoyment of cars, roads, travel by all. Free people coming together to solve a problem.

    Thats what our system of government is supposed to be about, no? We revolted against a governmental system that was supposedly established through the will of god, to rule the peasantry. We said that government is something that should only exist as a function of OUR consent. When and where we feel a need for it.

    A drivers licence is a certificate of competency that we grant the government the authority to test for and issue, so that our need for safety can be satisfied. It is not a permission slip from our lords and masters to exercise some privilege that they have the power to grant or withold for any other reason.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. al bee says:

    The only forces that cross a countries’ border without legal representation is an invading army. The Nazi had no papers a they crossed into Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands. I would protest any invading force military or otherwise.

    That settled, the governments of people crossing illegally into the United States are actively encouraging the people to enter the United States. As former President Fox toured the U.S. during the previous go around actively supporting the right of foreigners to enter the country. Under the Mexican immigrations laws, where it states: visitors shall not interfere in the local Mexican politics, he was breaking his own law. These countries are dumping their losers on us.

    Do We, The United States, owe the world a better life? If so, why are all the lefties protesting so vehemently the Iraq War.

    I was in Vietnam and went through prostate cancer and was subsequently diagnosed with Myelodysplasia. Was Vietnam worth the effort? I thought so when I went and only regret we didn’t finish the job

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Tlaloc says:

    I dont know quite what you mean by a “definitive” right.

    That’s pretty simple- definitive means “defines” as in a right that is spelled out so people know exactly what it is (or at least have a basis for forming their arguments about what it means). The 2nd amendment is a defined right. Driving a car is not.

    I dont need the permission of the government to walk in public, do I?

    Pretty much, yeah. Notice that jaywalking is a crime. Now it isn’t a crime that is taken very seriously and you aren’t likely to be ticketed for it, but, yes, you apparently *do* need the government’s implicit permission to walk in public, Tano.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Tlaloc says:

    whoops should be “definitive means “defined“”

    with regards to a right to walk in public, let me point out that I am not saying this is how things should be, merely how they are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Steve Plunk says:

    Tlaloc, I think you’re reaching on this. While you may be questioned or perhaps told where you may not walk, we do not need permission to walk on the street. Now there may be cases of some policeman hassling someone on the sidewalk but those are unusual. The law is on our side.

    Jaywalking is a safety issue just like going over the speed limit or driving drunk so that example doesn’t work.

    The 2nd amendment defines the right and the 9th and 10th deal with the rights not specifically mentioned. Driving would fall under that category.

    The idea of driving as a privilege should be discarded from public discourse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Michael says:

    The 2nd amendment defines the right and the 9th and 10th deal with the rights not specifically mentioned. Driving would fall under that category.

    That makes sense, the Constitution defines which rights can not be taken away by legislation. The 9th says that anything that is not explicitly outlawed by legislation is implicitly granted by the constitution.

    Therefore, without a law saying you can’t drive a car, you have the right to drive one. Thus far the laws saying you can’t are limited to public areas, a minimum age requirement, and your competency as measured by the DMV.

    Your driver’s license doesn’t give you the right to drive, it verifies that you meet the qualifications of age and competency required to drive in public areas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0