D.C.’s illegal immigrants to drive legally on ‘limited’ license

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Illegal immigrants can now get a “limited purpose” driver’s license in the nation’s capital.

D.C. lawmakers predict the legislation will increase safety on the city’s roadways as undocumented residents will now have a means to take driver’s education tests and register and insure their vehicles.

“We have thousands of people in the District of Columbia who live among us and who need to drive, and without having the legal means to drive they tend to drive anyway,” said D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat.

The new law, signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Monday, requires the licenses to have “not for federal purposes” on them — a demarcation that angers activists who consider it a scarlet letter. But it allows the District to be in compliance with the federal Real ID Act.

The federal Real ID Act — set to take effect across the country in 2014 — will require states to check that license applicants are in the country legally, ensure they have valid Social Security numbers and verify the authenticity of documents such as birth certificates.

Lawmakers sought to make the marking on the license as inconspicuous as possible, said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

“We recognize in other jurisdictions that law enforcement may use the second license as a form of profiling and we don’t want that,” said Mr. Mendelson, a Democrat. “The limited purpose driver’s license really isn’t that distinguishable.”

Asked whether he thought undocumented residents would get the license despite the marking, Mr. Mendelson responded, “Absolutely.”

“The experience in other states is that it will very much be in demand,” he said.

The District joins 11 states and Puerto Rico in offering some form of driver’s license to undocumented residents. The majority of the jurisdictions also use a special notification on the licenses, including California, where Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s law into effect in October.

During the signing, immigrant rights activists and supporters of the bill applauded and exchanged handshakes and hugs with the mayor afterward.

“I’m really proud to be a part of the effort to bring about immigration reform here in the District of Columbia and across the nation,” Mr. Gray said.

The law is subject to a congressional review of 30 legislative days. Mr. Gray said he expects the District’s Department of Motor Vehicles to be ready to issue the licenses by May 1.

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