Yesterday Illinois approved a law allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain temporary driver’s licenses. The rationale for the law is that it would increase public safety by allowing many unauthorized immigrant drivers to get proper training and to buy auto insurance. A similar law passed in New Mexico in 2000 likely resulted in a slight decrease in the percent of uninsured drivers on the road in that state but the effects were negligible.
Economic benefits are a better rationale for allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Many who were deterred from driving either to work or as part of their job will soon be able to do so legally. The types of jobs available to some unauthorized immigrants and, consequently, their productivity will improve because of this law.
As columnist Ruben Navarrette pointed out, a driver’s license is the most coveted piece of government issued paper besides a work permit or a green card. The ability to drive is inseparable from the ability to work in many parts of the country. The Illinois law will likely have a bigger positive impact on the lives and productivity of unauthorized immigrants than any other government issued piece of paper besides a work visa or green card.