Virginia Senate Approves Bills Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain Driver’s Licenses

February 13, 2020 Updated: February 13, 2020
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Bills that could allow undocumented immigrants residing in Virginia to obtain driver’s licenses were approved by the Virginia General Assembly on Feb. 11.

The House Bill 1211 and Senate Bill 34 for “Licenses for All” were passed in both the House and the Senate before the end of the Virginia General Assembly’s “crossover” deadline. It would allow Virginia to issue driver’s licenses to residents regardless of their immigration status.

The House of Delegates approved Senate Bill 34 in a 57-42 vote and the Senate approved the bill with a 22-18 bipartisan vote. Both bills will now be subject to a process of unification and corrections before they are sent to Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s desk.

They would allow taxpaying Virginians who can prove they know how to drive, as well as their identities, to obtain driver’s permits valid for one year. Under current state law, individuals applying for driver’s permits must be able to show they are authorized to be in the United States by providing proof of “legal presence.”

Applicants would be required to maintain insurance and pass road and written tests under the Driver’s Privilege Card program. Supporters of the measure have said road safety would be increased by making it a requirement for more people to pass driving tests.

Others, however, have argued that Virginia should not reward undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses.

If Northam signs the bill into law, it would go into effect from Jan. 1, 2021.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 34, Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Va.), described it as a “public safety and quality of life bill” following the Senate’s vote on Tuesday.

“Having an ID also makes it more likely that individuals will come forward to assist law enforcement in investigations. Other states who have taken action have seen a decline in collisions and hit-and-run cases,” said Surovell, who has worked since 2016 on passing such a measure.

The Drive Virginia Forward campaign, a coalition of activists, said last September that granting driver’s licenses in Virginia regardless of legal status would benefit more than 200,000 immigrants in the state and make roads safer.

GOP Del. Terry Austin, meanwhile, argued during a House hearing in January that if passed, cases of identity fraud could rise, The Washington Post reported.

“This license can be taken as the person is a citizen of the United States,” Austin said. “This could misrepresent an individual’s identity and compromise safety in the United States.”

The bill, however, would not allow the driving privilege cards to be used as valid identification for federal, voting, or public benefit purposes, reported CNN.

Virginia would become the 18th state to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain privilege cards if the legislation is passed, according to Surovell’s office.