Mayor Vincent Gray wants access to licenses for immigrants
WASHINGTON (AP) - People living in the country illegally would be able to get driver's licenses in the nation's capital under a bill that Mayor Vincent Gray plans to introduce.
The Democratic mayor, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and other city leaders will introduce the bill on Thursday. It would allow district residents to obtain a license or a city identification card regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
As with all legislation in the district, it would only become law after a 30-day congressional review period.
Five states allow people who don't have legal permission to live in the United States to obtain driver's licenses: Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Washington state and, most recently, Oregon, whose governor signed a bill Wednesday in conjunction with rallies around the country in support of immigration reform. Colorado and North Carolina are among the states considering similar legislation.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the district in Congress, said she did not think Congress would block the city's bill while it considers sweeping legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.
Norton, who supports the measure, said it was important for public safety.
"Maryland is protecting D.C. residents by licensing its undocumented immigrants, not just protecting its own residents," she said. "Meanwhile, we're doing nothing to protect either our residents or the residents of any other states that our own residents who are undocumented may drive to."
Gray declined to comment on the proposal ahead of Thursday's planned news conference.
Earlier this year, the D.C. Council considered a bill that would drop the requirement that people provide a Social Security number to get a driver's license. But Councilmember Mary Cheh said the mayor's proposal appeared to be more comprehensive and in line with changes she wanted to make to that bill.
The new proposal, Cheh said, would create a second-class license for people who are not in the country legally, similar to what Maryland has done, in order to comply with federal law. The license would not be valid for federal purposes, such as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building.
A 2011 study by the Pew Research Center estimated that 25,000 district residents were in the country illegally.
"These people are here and are undocumented, but they're here, they're working, they have children, they have families," Cheh said. "Not being able to drive is an extraordinary burden on them having anything like a normal life."
The earlier measure that would drop the requirement to show a Social Security number was supported by at least 10 of the 13 councilmembers, so the mayor's proposal would appear to have an easy path to passage. In addition to Cheh and Mendelson, Councilmembers Jim Graham and Tommy Wells indicated they would support the new bill. The council includes 11 Democrats and two left-leaning independents and is reliably liberal on social issues.