Issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island would lead to safer roads and potentially better economic opportunities, according to a legal and policy analysis that the Roger Williams University School of Law and the Latino Policy Institute (LPI) at Roger Williams University released on Thursday. Here’s a link to the report: “A Legal and Policy Analysis of Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Rhode Islanders”
In all, 14 jurisdictions, including 12 states, Puerto Rico and Washington DC, provide standard or alternate driver’s licenses to their undocumented populations. The study found that states providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants don’t see a massive influx of immigrants, but they do have fewer traffic fatality rates on average and lower average costs for auto insurance. Also, poverty rates tend to decline at a faster rate in states that provide driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, the study found.
Rhode Island has the largest percentage of uninsured motorists in New England, and the state contains an estimated 30,000 undocumented immigrants, says the report.
J Alejandro Tirad0-Alcaraz, one of the report’s researchers, stressed that the report shows correlations between granting driver’s licenses to undocumented workers and economic benefits, not causality. People with licenses are more likely to purchase insurance and less likely to be in accidents. “Poverty rates are declining faster in states that are providing a driver’s license,” said Tirado-Alcaraz.
The study cites an AAA Foundation report that unlicensed drivers were 19 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. “The completion of driver’s education and passing of a driving test would ensure that all drivers on the roads are aware of the driving rules and laws of the road, thereby making it safer for all to drive,” the report states.
“This comprehensive analysis by researchers at Roger Williams University confirms that issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented Rhode Islanders can improve public safety for everyone,” said Governor Gina Raimondo, “I remain committed to addressing this important public safety issue and hope to work with the General Assembly to provide a path for undocumented Rhode Islanders to obtain drivers’ licenses.”
“There’s been significant contributions to the state’s economy,” said Anna Cano Morales, director of LPI, “a little over $30 million” from taxes alone. Cano Morales went on to point out how licenses contribute to other forms of economic activity. They are needed for AAA memberships, gym memberships or hotel rooms, for instance.
The study analyzes how other states have handled driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, saying, “States with a lenient approach invite fraud and free-riding by residents of other states. States with a strict approach discourage bona fide applicants, and thus jeopardize the public safety and economic benefits of granting driver’s privileges to undocumented individuals.” Legislation proposed in the past in Rhode Island falls into the “moderate” category that strikes the right balance, the report says.
“I am proud to see LPI continue meaningful and thought-provoking research on Latinos in Rhode Island,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, a former RWU School of Law professor who co-founded the Latino Policy Institute, “I am especially appreciative of their research on the benefits of issuing driver’s licenses to all of our residents, regardless of immigration status. I support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants because it is a matter of equity, and it is also a matter of safety. By properly educating and insuring all of our drivers, we create safer roads for everyone.”
Though bills to grant licenses to undocumented immigrants are expected to be introduced in the General Assembly this year, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello ran his campaign in part on a promise to thwart such efforts as he has done for the last two years. The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty made licenses for undocumented immigrants one of its four main priorities this year. Mattiello declined to attend their vigil, the first time in nine years the Speaker of the House declined.