Critics call it a train wreck, and the euphemism isn’t too far off.
The state of Texas has joined other states across the nation in restricting the allocation of drivers’ licenses according to U.S. residency status. The issue became a major problem in New York for the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who at different times defended it and opposed it, and never quite seemed to understand the issue when the subject came up on the campaign trail.
Clinton and others appear to have come to see the license as an official government identification card. While it is commonly accepted at stores and other places because it does carry a photo and identifying information, it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, relied upon for identification, precisely because people will start to impose qualifiers to make its use as an ID easier. Those efforts, however, will only serve to distance the card from its primary function.
Texas has also begun issuing different styles of licenses based on nationality, which would seem a greater burden on Department of Public Safety officials, greater costs to taxpayers, and greater opportunities for forgery.
The DPS does prepare and sell identification cards for people who don’t drive, but they are separate from the licenses and should stay that way.
A driver’s license is intended to serve as a certificate of compliance, and nothing more. It shows the holder has passed tests to show knowledge of state and federal traffic laws, and demonstrated enough proficiency behind the wheel to be considered a safe driver and allowed to drive on our roads.
This should be the sole purpose of the card; merchants and banks might accept it as identification, but that should be purely incidental.
That is why legal residency status should be irrelevant, as it is in New Mexico.
Imposing such a restriction would only discourage many people from earning licenses — and preparing for the tests by actually learning our traffic laws. Many of them will continue to drive, to be sure; the difference is they might be more dangerous on the road if they never took the steps to qualify for the card because they weren’t legal U.S. residents.
Residency should not be a factor in securing such permits, and nowhere is that more evident than along the border, where people from Mexico and other countries come to spend days and sometimes even weeks, will full intentions of driving on our roads.
Foreign nationals who have legal permission to be in the United States are required to have other forms of identification, and those documents should suffice. Access to our roads, however, is not and should not be limited to permanent U.S. residents. Placing residency requirements on a certificate of proficiency, which is what a driver’s license is, places a restriction on the license that has nothing to do with driving, and is therefore inappropriate.
State officials should recognize the specific purpose of drivers’ licenses, and know they should be issued irrespective of immigration status. Loading other functions onto this specific permit is inappropriate.