A D.C. Council committee Tuesday adopted a provision into legislation introduced by the mayor that would allow illegal immigrants to get the same driver’s licenses as other D.C. residents.
The Committee on Transportation and the Environment voted 5-0 in favor of a bill that would pave the way for the estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants living in the District to obtain licenses devoid of any markings that could indicate their immigration status.
Under the original legislation, proposed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray, the licenses would have included a disclosure — a marking or a stamp — stating it is not a form of federal identification so that the District’s licenses would still comply with the federal guidelines created by the Real ID Act.
Activists, while supportive of the legislation, argued that driver’s licenses with a marking could be used to single out illegal immigrants and disagreed with the two-tiered system shot down by the council committee.
“Marking the licenses of undocumented District residents sends a symbolic message,” a committee report on the bill said. “It tells those residents that although the government supports expanding the opportunities for them to engage in city life, those opportunities must come at a cost: that because they are undocumented they are part of a sub-class of District residents.”
The committee report reasons that because the Real ID Act of 2005, which grew out of a commission’s recommendation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that driver’s licenses needed to be more secure, has not been federally enforced that the city could skirt its implementation at this time.
Marking of driver’s licenses could be done at a later time, if necessary, the committee concluded. Nineteen states currently meet Real ID Act standards, which are set to take effect in 2014, while others were given deferment status, according to a District Department of Motor Vehicles official who previously testified about the proposed bill.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office said the altered legislation is being reviewed, but the mayor does have concerns about its legality.
“The mayor stands by his original bill, which is a more responsible way of achieving the same goal,” spokesman Pedro Ribiero said.
The bill will come before the entire D.C. Council for a vote next week.
“I think we’ve got to resist the entanglement of the federal process in our local driver’s licenses,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.
Mr. Graham sought to alter the types of documents that were required in order to obtain a driver’s license, but his amendment was defeated. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chairwoman of the committee, said some changes could be taken under consideration and added to the legislation before the bill is introduced before the council next week.
Six states have passed laws allowing undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses, with New Mexico and Washington being the only states that issue the same license to all, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Washington state issues local driver’s licenses but also allows the option for an enhanced identification card in order to comply with the federal law. Laws passed in other states, including Maryland, require demarcations.