Drivers Licenses and Social Security Numbers for Illegal Immigrants
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The requirements for obtaining a driver's license varies by state. Some states are proposing legislation to prohibit the issuance of state issued identification to individuals who are unable to prove legal immigration status. Conversely, in other states it is possible for an illegal immigrant to obtain a driver's license, as no proof of legal
immigration status is required. Interestingly, legislation almost passed in California that would have made it very easy for an illegal immigrant to obtain a driver's license. In September 2003, former Governor Gray Davis of California signed a bill that would have given illegal immigrants the chance to obtain a California
driver's license. Many Californians applauded Governor Davis's actions, as many feel that in order to make all drivers safer, everyone should be able to get a driver's license. The supporters argued that there were many illegal immigrants driving without a license, and by giving illegal immigrants the opportunity to obtain a license and pass the required driving test, overall safety would improve. In addition to having a driver’s license, illegal immigrants would also be required to have car insurance, as required by state law in California. Because insurance companies only insure individuals with a driver’s license, if this legislation passed, more individuals would be able to obtain car insurance. Advocates also cite that this would, in turn, drive down the cost of car insurance, in addition to making the roads safer. Another added benefit would be that the black market for driver's licenses would be significantly reduced. Opponents to the former governor's legislation argued that by allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license, they are being rewarded for entering the country illegally. In addition, critics also maintained that driver's licenses for illegal immigrants would only encourage more illegal immigrants to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Opponents also cited matters of national security and stated that driver’s licenses could also be used for identification purposes which may lead to more terrorists entering the U.S. In response, some government officials have proposed that a “driving only” document be issued to individuals who are unable to prove legal immigration status. The "driving only" license would be easily differentiated from a normal driver's license and would not be an acceptable form of identification in many instances. Nonetheless, California has yet to pass any legislation regarding driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. When Governor Schwarzenegger came into office he was quick to repeal the bill signed by former Governor Davis.
The most common discourse surrounding driving is that it is a privilege for law-abiding citizens and noncitizens. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, the federal government implemented heightened security measures when obtaining state-issued identification cards, such as a driver’s license or a social security number. As such, new federal laws were introduced that made it a requirement to show proof of legal residency status and identity in order to obtain a state driver’s license or any other state-issued id. Legislation was also passed that stated as of May 2008, driver's licenses issued by states that do not meet the federal requirements will not be accepted as legal identification to gain entry into a federal building or to board an airplane in the U.S. However, the government recently granted an extension until 2012, in order to allow ample time for states to comply with the new measures. Some states, such as Texas, have already passed legislation and proof of legal residency is now required in order to obtain a state id. Already, without proving legal residency status, there are numerous required documents an individual must submit in order to obtain a driver’s license. The following are requirements for the state of California: (1) a fee, (2) proof of social security number (SSN), (3) proof of identity, (4) verification of birth date and proof of legal presence, (5) limited term legal presence, (6) vision exam and (7) the signature of the parent or guardian for minors. Requirements for driver’s license may vary from state to state, so it is recommended to refer to the state's department of motor vehicles (DMV) website.
The requirements are strict not only to obtain a driver’s license but to obtain a social security number as well. The Social Security Administration issues three different types of social security cards. The first type is given to U.S. citizens and immigrants lawfully residing in the United States. This document includes the bearer's name and social security number. The second type is granted to individuals who are only authorized to work on a temporary basis and with DHS authorization. This card specifically states “valid for work only with DHS authorization.” The final card is issued to foreigners for non-work purposes and states “not valid for employment.” The requirements to obtain a social security number for work purposes are that the applicant must be either a citizen of the United States or a permanent U.S. resident (Green Card holder). Immigrants must be able to show that they are authorized to live and work in the United States in order to obtain certain documentation. Those with work authorization include refugees, asylums, officials from foreign governments, NATO personnel and representatives of international organizations. The list is extensive so it's important to check work eligibility. In addition, the applicant must show proof of age and identity. Documentation that can be used to prove age and identity include passports, birth certificates, hospital records, driver's licenses, marriage records, and documentation from the USCIS (formerly known as the INS or Immigration and Naturalization Service). A similar process must be undergone in order to obtain a non-work social security number.