Undocumented. Illegal. Immigrant. Alien. These terms are incendiary and have been at the center of firefights regarding work, education and housing. The one topic that scarcely ever gets a Facebook post is driving.
Depending on your politics, you would find it either logical or ludicrous to provide a drivers license to someone who is not a legal resident of our country. However, there are states where this is a practice, and they report an unexpected benefit.
What the Numbers Show
A research study published earlier this year by Stanford University seems to indicate that allowing undocumented immigrants has reduced the number of hit and run accidents statewide. California passed a law in 2013 allowing access to a drivers license for the undocumented. The license indicates that the holder is not a legal resident of the country, but a provision of the law prevents the holder from being surrendered to immigration for presenting the license. In 2015, 600,000 “AB 60” licenses were issued, and the state recorded roughly 4000 fewer hit and run accidents, a 7 to 10% decrease compared to the previous year.
The study was motivated in part by the announcement that the federal government intended to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities.” A sanctuary city is defined as a municipality that shields immigrants who are in the US illegally. US Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said that such action is necessary as the presence of the undocumented “endanger the lives of every American.” A common rhetorical weapon used in the immigration debate is that persons are in the country illegally are more prone to violence and other delinquency. The findings of the Stanford study may, to some extent, deflate that argument.
Where are These Licenses Available?
California is among a dozen states and the District of Columbia that offer undocumented residents some form of legal driving status. While studies similar to the Stanford research have not been performed in these other areas, it would be interesting to see if in at least one area providing protections for undocumented residents could have a measurable positive benefit. While there are countless anecdotal tales of undocumented individuals impacting local communities, no such tale would make as bold a statistical argument as a statewide result like the one witnessed in California.
It must be noted that the AB 60 licenses did not lead to a decrease in the overall number of accidents, only in the number where the driver at fault chose to flee. Eliminating the fear of deportation allowed approximately 4000 accident victims to at least have some hope of reparation for their damages. There is no escaping the fact that undocumented residents are going to find ways to drive. But, if the findings in California are any indication, allowing them to do so legally without fear of reprisal could provide a small ray of positive light in which immigrants could be viewed.