Delaware passed legislation Tuesday to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for and obtain a drivers license.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Bear, and co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, and Representatives Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South, and Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek, passed in the Senate with a 17 to 1 vote.
“For the people who have been here for years and years, they’re part of our community, working in our work force, worshipping in our churches, they’re a part of our community too,” Townsend said. “This bill enables them to step out of the shadow, pay a fee to get a card, take the tests and obtain the privilege to drive lawfully.”
Undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for and obtain a Class D driver’s license for driving privileges only. The license is not considered a valid form of identification due to the applicant’s inability to prove legal presence in the U.S.
This bill doesn’t change any existing driver license requirements for those who are U.S. citizens or who have lawful presence in the country.
Those who apply will be required to purchase car insurance and pass written, road and vision tests. The goal is to ensure safer drivers, as well as insured drivers, on the road.
Other states have adopted similar systems, which include anti-fraud measures and incentivize participation from undocumented residents.
Applicants must submit two years of State tax returns as a means of establishing Delaware as their state of residence before they can receive driving privileges.
Delaware would not use the information gathered for the card for any other purposes, unless information indicative of a criminal history suggests a potential threat to public safety.
The majority of the Senate voted favorable for the bill Tuesday. Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Dover, said immigrants working hard to support their family and abide by the laws should be afforded some rights.
“The vast majority of people who have come here have come out of devastation and to provide a better livelihood for their families,” he said.
Colin Bonini, R-Dover, who didn’t vote favorably, said he was concerned about the message the bill sends out to immigrants. He said he believes it encourages individuals to immigrate illegally, and could frustrate those who arrived legally.
“We’re asking Delaware tax payers to pay half a million dollars for services for illegal immigrants,” Bonini said.
“We’re seeing millions of folks who are waiting in line lawfully and legally to get into this country, and we’re saying, ‘You keep waiting in line, we’re going to offer tax paid services for folks who didn’t follow the rules.’”
The legislation will benefit many individuals and families, said Darlene Battle, executive director of the Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement.
Battle, who helped campaign for the bill, said it will incentivize safe driving among immigrants and help them overcome their fears of getting pulled over while they drive their children to school or for their job.
“I am so elated. We have senators here who understand there are over 35,000 families undocumented here in Delaware working hard, sending kids to school, paying state taxes, purchasing homes and they just love this American life,” she said.
“They have insurance currently and don’t have licenses, so now they can have auto insurance legally.”