One year ago, the Obama administration declared that it was halting the deportations of some unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and would allow them to seek work-authorization papers and Social Security numbers. This raised a question for the states: Would these young people, known as “Dreamers,” also be allowed to drive?
Nearly every state has since reached the right conclusion, that Dreamers who now live here legally should be able to drive legally, too, as a straightforward matter of public safety and common sense. Some states have gone further to grant licenses to all qualified applicants regardless of immigration status. New Mexico and Washington already had such laws and were joined this year by Illinois, Oregon, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, Nevada and Colorado. California is considering doing the same. Utah issues a certificate to the undocumented that is valid for driving but not for identification.
But Arizona and Nebraska persist in trying to keep immigrants out of the driver’s seat, singling out Dreamers as ineligible for licenses. In Arizona, notorious for its anti-immigrant laws, such spitefulness is all-but-official state policy. In Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman, said in a news release in August: “The State of Nebraska will continue its practice of not issuing driver’s licenses, welfare benefits or other public benefits to illegal immigrants unless specifically authorized by Nebraska statute.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are among the groups that have sued both states, charging discrimination. In Nebraska’s case, Mr. Heineman is accused of having summarily changed the rules on driver’s license eligibility without proper notice or public hearings.
Mr. Heineman has said that “policies that reward illegal behavior are not fair to those individuals that do follow the rules.” He fails to acknowledge that people who seek driver’s licenses are doing their best to follow the rules and that letting them do so is the fairest, safest thing for everyone who shares the road.
A remarkable shift in attitude is taking hold in the country, as shown by the immigration bill that passed the United States Senate with broad support last week. Americans understand that integrating immigrants is far better than forcing them to live at society’s edges. It should go without saying that licensed, insured, competent drivers are better than the other kind. Plaintiffs in Arizona and Nebraska should not have to argue the point in court because of noxious immigration politics.