Issue Licenses and Identification

Dreaming of a Better Tomorrow: In-State Tuition at the Forefront

States across the country are proposing in-state college tuition rates for undocumented students, a move mirrored by Congress' proposed DREAM Act, which was re-introduced at the federal level on March 25th. Currently ten states allow undocumented immigrants to enroll in state colleges and universities under the cheaper in-state tuition rate category: California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington. In recent years, anti-immigrant legislators sought to modify or repeal laws providing access to in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, though they've failed each time. This session, those efforts failed again in Utah and Nebraska. Kansas didn't even bring up repealing it.


While only a few states still issue drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, progressive leaders need to emphasize that many top law enforcement officials are on record supporting such drivers license identification programs as a way to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, and better track state residents for law enforcement purposes.

Top officials who have publicly supported these measures include former New York police chief William Bratton, who now heads Los Angeles' police force, and anti-terror officials like Richard A. Clark, the counter-terrorism czar for Presidents Clinton and Bush.

Eight states do not require proof of legal status to obtain a driver license: Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington, with none of them suffering ill effects to public safety.

There are a number of models for removing bars to undocumented immigrants receiving licenses:

  • New Jersey A2607 would permit the state to issue driving privilege cards, with the same privileges and legal responsibilities of a basic driver's license, to persons who cannot prove ID or lawful presence in the country.
  • California SB 60 would require compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005, but would also require the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a driver's license that permits driving, and is not acceptable by a federal agency for federal identification or for any other official purpose, to an applicant who does not provide valid documentary evidence of lawful status under the federal act.  

Many Americans are concerned about lost privacy in all aspects of our lives, so another approach is to combine licensing laws for immigrants with a more general policy denying the DMV the right to inquire about a wide range of personal information, from legal status to gender orientation, as long as the person can produce some reasonable identification.

See also:

State Immigration Project: Policy Options for 2009

Download a copy of the reports in PDF format here.  View the HTML version of the report here.