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Living in Car Culture Without A License: The Ripple Effects of Withholding Driver’s Licenses from Unauthorized Immigrants

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The Immigration Policy Center recently published an article entitled, “Living in Car Culture Without A License: The Ripple Effects of Withholding Driver’s Licenses from Unauthorized Immigrants,” by Sarah E. Hendricks. This timely article examines the culture of cars and mobility that dominates the way of life in the United States and the impacts of restricting access to driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. This impacts individuals, local communities, and U.S. society. Hendricks’ principle argument is that by denying a significant proportion of immigrants the ability to access a driver’s licenses it undercuts the real and potential benefits that an immigrant population can offer

First, she examines the ripple effect of withholding driver’s licenses from unauthorized immigration. All individuals in the U.S., both those with authorized and unamortized status, require transportation to accomplish daily tasks such as going to work, going to school, visiting the doctor, or running errands. A lack of ability to drive reduces an individual’s local and social participation. In certain areas there are viable options to utilize public transportation and carpooling initiative, but these choices are limited by time schedules which can prohibit staying late at work or school in order not to miss the schedule. Restricting access to driver’s licenses from unauthorized immigrants also creates more dangerous driving situations on the road because people without proper driver training or insurance will be on the road.

Next, she argues that the more immigrants are able to drive, the more they can realize their potential economic and social contributions to their U.S. communities. All immigrants, regardless of their status, play significant roles in their communities as consumers, taxpayers, workers, and entrepreneurs. Without a license and the ability to lawfully drive a car their ability to fully realize these roles is severely limited. They become constrained by geographic proximity. Workers and consumers are expected to be able to drive and without this ability they are limited in what jobs they can take and what hours they can work. Educational opportunities for children are also constrained due to the fact that they must rely on buses and cannot take advantage of extracurricular activities or extra schooling if their parents cannot pick them up. Hendricks argues that “lack of access to transportation may constrain upward economic mobility and contribute to the perpetuation of poverty.” She further argues, “Transportation needs thus may significantly shape the possibility and trajectory of the businesses of immigrant entrepreneurs, and restrictions on transportation may constrain the potential for business and growth.” Lack of transportation also directly impacts the ability of individuals’ to take advantage of preventative health initiatives which forces more people to utilize emergency room services.

Third, she argues that licensing drivers will improve public safety. This argument should be abundantly clear that allowing unauthorized immigrants to drive by following the same channels of learning, examination, and regulation that the rest of the population is subjected to would increase road safety for the entire country. Hendricks states that, “the number of unauthorized immigrants who drive without a valid license is not clear.” She highlights some of the concerns for those driving without a license: you cannot purchase care insurance, risk vehicle impoundment, and lack of ability to learn and train how to drive a car. Allowing unauthorized immigrants to have valid licenses and proper driver training can enable police forces to concentrate on more serious issues such as crime and public safety instead of policing who does and who does not have a license.

Fourth, she argues that withholding the right to drive from unauthorized Latino immigrants contributes to a hostile, threatening environment that may have long-term repercussions for U.S. communities. She states, “the manner in which immigrants and their children are regarded by society, and the opportunities available to them, significantly affect their prospects.” Certain states and communities in the U.S. have adopted attitudes and initiatives in attempt to make life so uncomfortable for unauthorized individuals that they choose to leave the community, and the U.S. While these initiatives have not been resoundingly successfully, they may contribute to a climate of fear and uncertainty. She discusses how immigrants attempt to lower their profile, move throughout the community less, and become less involved in the economy and civil society. This detrimentally impacts the economy and the community in the short and long term.

Finally, she discusses how individual states determine whether to impose immigration-related restrictions on driver’s licenses. Several states have begun to issue driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants and many do so on the basis of making roads safer and to promote the healthy functioning of their state. Other states have begun to contemplate this topic.

Overall, this article raises a very important discussion about the access to driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants. The benefits of doing so extend to the larger community and help the economy and schools thrive, and reduce health care costs, create a more welcoming climate to immigrants, and improve overall road safety.

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