New BTC Brief finds that expanding access to licenses regardless of immigration status would help families, make roads safer and promote economic growth
One of the biggest flashpoints in the ongoing national debate over immigration policy centers on the matter of driver’s licenses. To anti-immigrant groups and those who champion mass deportations, the idea on providing driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals is an anathema. They see the granting of licenses as effectively conferring some kind of enhanced legal status on undeserving “lawbreakers.”
To a growing and bipartisan group of elected officials, experts, businesspeople, advocates and average Americans across the country, however, this kneejerk reaction is, while perhaps understandable, off base. These observers have come to the conclusion that providing driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals is an increasingly pragmatic and effective way to strengthen the economy, enhance highway safety and ease human suffering without making any judgment on the ultimate immigration status of any particular individuals.
This latter viewpoint – that expanding access to driver’s licenses could improve public safety, boost the state’s economy and benefit hundreds of thousands of North Carolina families – is the finding of a new report from the NC Budget & Tax Center (BTC) .
More than 90 percent of North Carolinians use a car to get to work, either by driving alone or carpooling. Yet hundreds of thousands miss out on the opportunity to meet basic family needs and participate more fully in the state’s economy, says the report by the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.
Being able to drive a car is vitally important in North Carolina to get to work, take children to school and meet daily family needs. Ensuring that all drivers are licensed and insured also supports broader public safety goals that are important to every North Carolinian. That’s why a growing number of states—12 as of 2013— have allowed undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses. The experiences of other states show there is little to no additional cost to the state from this policy, but substantial benefits.
Based on estimates of the number of undocumented immigrants in North Carolina and the state’s adult population, as many as 254,545 people would benefit from this policy. Some of these drivers would undoubtedly be heads of households, thereby delivering benefits to their children as well.
“North Carolina has been a leader in adopting policies that make our roads safer, but one simple policy, ensuring all drivers can access a license, is still needed,” said Alexandra Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center. “To get a license, drivers must know the rules of the road, pass a vision test and have car insurance, key tools in improving the safety of all North Carolinians on the road.”
There could also be widespread economic benefits. The BTC publication  echoes a recent report from the Department of Public Safety in concluding that driver’s licenses would mean more consumer spending and hence more profits for businesses.
“When unauthorized immigrants have safe, legal access to transportation, it improves their ability to get to work regularly and on time and gives them greater opportunities to fully participate in local economies. This, in turn, benefits the state’s economy,” Sirota said.