Supporters stressed the safety improvements for Iowa motorists that proposed legislation to allow driver licenses for undocumented immigrants could bring to the state. At a Moral Mondays meeting yesterday at the State Capitol, a gathering of progressive organizations described the start of a currently low-key effort to push for the changes.
“We know unlicensed drivers disproportionately cause more traffic fatalities,” explained Erica Johnson, an immigrant rights and social justice advocate for the ACLU. She cited a AAA study that such drivers are five times more likely to be in a crash than licensed drivers, in addition to being more likely to flee from the scene of a crash. She argued that increases insurance costs for the rest of drivers on an average of $116.90 a year. She also noted that denying licenses to the roughly 75,000 undocumented immigrants in Iowa also hurts law enforcement’s ability to ID people and know where they live.
“I feel very strongly about this,” said Senator Tony Bisignano, who made the issue a key focus of his recent campaign. “It’s important that we take the focus of this debate off of immigration – we want it to stay focused on the merit of the bill.” Bisignano moved the proposed legislation to his own Judiciary Committee to work on while support builds. He noted that this was only the early stages of the discussion, saying, “This bill is a turtle. I don’t mind, at the end I think we’re going to win the race.”
Backers distributed their list of a large number of law enforcement officials, business leaders and faith organizations that support the issue. Similar legislation has already been enacted in 10 other states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico. Johnson and Bisignano noted insurance rates have dramatically improved in several of those states, including in New Mexico where uninsured drivers went from 33% of the population to less than 10%. They also defended the program against concerns that the IDs could be used improperly, pointing out that applicants must already have a valid ID from their home country, and that the “Temporary Visitor” licenses they would be given would specifically note it isn’t valid for federal purposes or voting.
“We already know we’re heading for a worker shortage,” Bisignano said of its economic impacts for Iowa businesses. He argued the licenses are about “getting people to work, getting people to work safely, getting them insured. The workforce of tomorrow is the new immigrant of today.” Johnson echoed that sentiment, and also suggested that this could be one area where Iowa can make progress on immigration issues. While not much locally can be done on federal immigration laws, she said, “This is a concrete, common sense solution that Iowa can take.”
by Pat Rynard