Alternative Driver’s Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants

Featured Collection

overpassGetty Images

I-25/I-40 interchange in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


States are taking an increasingly active role in immigration-related policy. One issue several have addressed in recent years is whether to issue driver’s licenses to foreign-born residents who are not authorized to be in the United States. As of December 2015, 12 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Approximately 37 percent of the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population lives in one of these jurisdictions.

In light of this trend, Pew conducted research and hosted conversations with state officials to examine the experiences of policymakers and state agencies as they design and implement these laws. Although Pew takes no position on federal, state, or local laws or policies related to immigration and driver’s licenses, these data and insights can help states make informed choices about whether and how to enact and implement similar laws  and can better position those that have already implemented laws to evaluate their processes and adjust course, if necessary.

This research captures the variety of approaches states have taken and the issues they have confronted. No single model for designing and implementing a driver’s license law fits all states, and officials across the country continue to learn and adapt. States are already reaching out to one another and consulting with outside experts and nontraditional stakeholders, including foreign consulates, community-based organizations, and law enforcement agencies, to gain insight into the populations that these laws target, possible design and implementation successes and pitfalls, and creative solutions. Using these resources, state policymakers can draw from the experiences of other jurisdictions as they make choices about driver’s license policies.

Additional Resources

Media Contact

Jeremy Ratner

Director, Communications