Alternative Driver’s Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants

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Alternative Driver’s Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants
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I-25/I-40 interchange in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Overview

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.

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Deciding Who Drives

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Deciding Who Drives

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drivers licenses
Article

Driver’s Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants: 2016 Highlights

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In August 2015, The Pew Charitable Trusts produced a first-of-its-kind report examining the experiences of states and localities that issue alternative driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. The analysis explored the choices these jurisdictions made on scope, eligibility standards, issuance procedures, and outreach and education as they designed and implemented their laws.

Deciding who drives
Deciding who drives
Article

Driver’s Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants: Experts Discuss State Experiences

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Article

On Oct. 15, 2015, experts from California, Delaware, and Nevada came to Washington to discuss their varied experiences designing and implementing laws that allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain alternative driver’s licenses.  The event built on an August 2015 Pew report highlighting the decisions and experiences of the 10 states and the District of Columbia that issue such licenses to this population. 

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front car window
Article

Impacts of Licensing Unauthorized Immigrants

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Previous research by The Pew Charitable Trusts examined the decisions that 10 states and the District of Columbia made when designing and implementing their laws to issue driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Legislatures considering extending driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants debate such potential impacts as the number of insured drivers, public safety, and the economy. This brief provides an overview of the research exploring these potential effects.

PEW_OpenRoadUSA
PEW_OpenRoadUSA
Article

Factors Influencing the Number of Alternative Driver’s Licenses Issued by States

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Article

A Pew report published in August 2015 analyzed the experiences of 11 jurisdictions—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia—that issue alternative driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Deciding Who Drives explored how these jurisdictions designed and implemented their laws and the major decisions they made.

Additional Resources

Test your knowledge about driver's licenses for unauthorized immigrants
Test your knowledge about driver's licenses for unauthorized immigrants
Article

Driver’s Licenses for Unauthorized Immigrants

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Article

Some states have decided to allow unauthorized immigrants—those who do not have explicit permission from the U.S. government to reside in the country—to obtain driver’s licenses (also known by other names, such as driving privilege cards). Take our quiz and test your knowledge about this dynamic immigration policy issue. Answers are current as of March 2016.