Opinion Editorial By Rev. Elizabeth Wright, Executive Director, Austin Region Justice For Our Neighbors
Thousands of immigrants paid their taxes last week using a federally issued Taxpayer Identification Number. Oddly, these same immigrants who pay their taxes are not able to legally drive in Texas because they don’t have a social security number. Not being able to drive legally presents numerous problems for immigrants trying to navigate the legal path to obtain citizenship but also presents problems for Texas drivers.
Texas House Bill 35 creates a pathway for immigrants with federally issued Taxpayer Identification Numbers to legally drive. The goal of the bill is not to create state issued identification; the goal is to put more drivers on Texas roads that have passed driving tests, have insurance and drive inspected vehicles. A key component of this bill is the requirement that the conditional driver’s permit look noticeably different from the standard Texas Driver’s License and will be clearly marked that it is not for identification purposes.
Individuals applying for the “conditional driver’s permit” outlined in H.B. 35 must pass an approved driving course, the state driving exam and provide proof of six months prepaid insurance if they own a vehicle. Anyone applying will also be fingerprinted and undergo a state and federal criminal background check before the receiving the conditional permit.
Currently, 12 other states have created programs allowing immigrants who don’t have a social security number to apply for a form of driver’s license. Data from these states shows licensed drivers become more knowledgeable about driving laws, purchase insurance and register their vehicles. More drivers knowing the rules of the road, being insured and driving properly maintained vehicles makes roads safer for all Texans.
A report was released just this week showing the Connecticut policy of allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses has resulted in a 15% decrease in hit-and-run crashes since the start of issuing conditional driver’s licenses. Unlicensed drivers were 9.4 times more likely to flee an accident than those with a license, according to a study by the AAA Foundation titled Unlicensed to Kill.
A study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles found drivers without valid licenses were nearly three times more likely to cause a fatal accident than licensed drivers. Unlicensed drivers in that state were even found to be more hazardous than drivers whose licenses were suspended or revoked.
Providing a pathway for immigrants with federally issued Taxpayer Identification Numbers to drive legally is also good for the Texas economy. In addition to the almost $19 million in increased fees the state would receive if even half of eligible Texas immigrants applied for the conditional driver’s permit, Texas businesses would also see an uptick in business.
A 2011 study from the Oregon Department of Transportation showed offering immigrants the ability to drive legally increased their spending and work ability. Economist Ray Perryman estimates the direct net benefit of the undocumented workforce in Texas is $326.1 billion annually in total expenditures, $144.7 billion a year in gross product and the creation of 1.2 million permanent jobs.
Many immigrants in the Texas workforce who are in the process of obtaining permanent legal status have a permit to work. However, they don’t have access to reliable transportation to get to work and many won’t jeopardize their legal process by driving illegally. This creates a bind on their family and their ability to be productive members of society. It also undercuts the very legal process set out for them. Creating a conditional driver’s permit encourages and strengthens following the laws of Texas– a win for all.
If someone can get a federally issued Taxpayer Identification number, pass a driving class and the state driving test, show proof of insurance and pass a state and federal background check shouldn’t we give them access to drive legally and create a safer, stronger Texas for us all?
Editor’s Note: The Rev. Elizabeth R. Wright is the Executive Director of Austin Region Justice For Our Neighbors, a Methodist immigration ministry that provides quality free and low-cost immigration services to immigrants navigating our complicated and ever-changing U.S. immigration laws. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tina BrunoThe Texas Justice For Our Neighbors NetworkCommunications Strategist210-559-5277communications@TexasJFON.org
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