How a Driver’s License Would Change Undocumented Immigrants’ Lives

Still from Documented, the film by Jose Antonio Vargas.
Still from Documented, the film by Jose Antonio Vargas.

For many of us, obtaining a driver’s license is not a tedious task. We walk into the DMV, and depending on where we live, might wait 30 mins or an hour or more. Of course if it is a new driver’s license, aside from the written and driving tests, we need to provide a valid document that lets the DMV clerks know that we are legally here in the United States. Imagine being an undocumented immigrant living in this country and not being able to obtain a driver’s license because you don’t have the proper documentation that proves you are here in this country legally.

In Idaho, with the lack of adequate public transportation, this rings even more true. Most people have to drive to get to work, take the kids to school and go to various appointments. It is difficult to get around in this state without a driver’s license.

Jose Luis Vargas, an undocumented Pulitzer Prize winning writer, wrote about how a law that would help undocumented immigrants in Oregon obtain a driver’s license would dramatically change their lives. His piece in Vanity Fair, “How Getting a Driver’s License Changed My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” documents the opportunities he received by obtaining a valid driver’s license. He writes about how he almost lost an internship at The Washington Post for not having a driver’s license because it was required in order to work there. Because of this he went to Oregon to obtain one; it was one of the few states that issued drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants at the time. Since then, he was able to be employed full time at The Post and had the opportunity to travel with Hillary Clinton when she made her bid for the presidency in 2008.

Vargas returned to Oregon campaigning for a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants in Oregonian to obtain a legal driver’s license. Measure 88, the Oregon alternative driver’s license ballot measure lost late last year when 66 percent of voters rejected it.

Vargas points out at the end of the article that his is just one story and that there are many other stories to be heard. I think about all of the undocumented immigrants and their families in Idaho who live with fear of getting caught driving without driver’s license and how that would lead them to be deported, leaving their families in peril. I think about how having a license would facilitate their lives. I would love to hear more stories and hopefully in the future we can post similar stories on the Latino 208 blog.

As it stands now, 10 states have laws that allow for undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license with California being the most recent to join. In Idaho, undocumented immigrants cannot obtain one without establishing a legal presence in the United States. Various groups have tried to get a law but have failed. Here is hoping that in the future, Idaho can finally pass a law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a license.


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