Opinion: Immigrant drivers are coming to town

    Delaware DMV office
(Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

    Delaware DMV office (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

    A law passed by the Delaware Legislature in June of 2015 gives immigrants living in the country illegally and legally a way to drive.

    The next time you are in a car accident, it could be because too many undocumented immigrants are driving, and they don’t know how to do it properly.

    The News Journal reports 4,600 of immigrants living in the country illegally are seeking Delaware driving privileges. A new law was passed by the Delaware Legislature in June of 2015 that gives them a way to drive. And in December the state began accepting applications.

    We are told that those seeking a license must prove they paid Delaware taxes for two years, and submit to the state of Delaware their fingerprints and identification documentation from their home country. Then they must pass a written test and a driving test and meet insurance requirements.

    It seems to be a very good law. We are told it was written by a group of immigrant groups, police, and state officials. When they finished, there was some doubt as to whether applications had to submit their fingerprints to the Delaware State Police. Some thought this might deter immigrants from signing up for fear of being deported.

    But apparently that didn’t happen.

    The group of 4,600 showed their two-year tax payment history and scheduled appointments with the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles, said Scott Vien, director of the agency. Their driving privilege cards will expire in four years, and is not a valid form of identification.

    Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, a dispute resolution attorney who sits on the Delaware Hispanic Commission said the immigrants who apply for the driving card in Delaware who are in the country illegally have a constant fear of deportation. But this new law allows them to become more of a member of the community. And fingerprinting and insurance requirements, plus road tests, also make streets safer for both drivers and police, she said. 

    Vien says the biggest challenge so far for the program is educating driving card applicants about the rules of the road. About 3,500 of the 4,600 who made appointments showed up, with some 3,000 of them taking a written test. But about 40 percent of those taking the test in English and Spanish failed.

    And I wonder how many of them will fail a driving exam that includes an English road sign test. It’s reported that 1,700 people have obtained either the initial temporary permit or the actual driving privilege card.

    As for those who failed the written test, DMV Officials are encouraging them to try again.

    And, it’s reported that 11 other states offer driving cards to people who are in the country illegally.

    One has to wonder just how thorough Delaware and the other states are in checking the security and background checks of all immigrants.

    John Watson is a long time observer of Wilmington and Delaware from his perch as a radio talkshow host. You can write him: JohnWatson1506@comcast.net

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal