Nearly 1 in 4 States Allow Illegal Immigrants to Obtain Drivers Licenses

37 percent of illegal population lives in a jurisdiction where they can get one

immigrant drivers license
A sign modeled after an Oregon driver's license is seen during a rally / AP
December 15, 2015

Nearly one in four states have enacted laws to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, according to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts.

There were 10 states—including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Medico, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, as well as Washington, D.C.— in August that issued driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants.

Two more states, Hawaii and Delaware, have since then added their names to that list.

For Delaware’s new law, one-time startup costs are estimated to be $628,752 and ongoing costs are estimated to be $320,252 for programing, personnel and equipment. Costs reach nearly $1 million for implementation, and the program is expected to bring in $400,000 in revenue in the first two years.

No cost estimates were available for Hawaii’s new law.

Other states that have implemented similar laws have projected high costs as well. Estimated costs from $140 million to $220 million were expected in California, compared to only $50 million in revenue over three years. Colorado projected it would cost $390,000 to design and create the new licenses and $36,000 to reprogram the driver’s license technology program.

"States considering issuing alternative driver’s licenses should weigh both the costs associated with implementing such changes, especially startup expenses and costs for new personnel, and the potential revenue generated from fees paid by applicants," states Pew.

Additionally, the report notes that states should also be aware of fraud, since unauthorized immigrants may have used false information. "Because they cannot obtain U.S. government-issued identity documents and Social Security numbers, some unauthorized immigrants may have previously used false identities, false addresses, or fraudulent documents to obtain driver’s licenses for which they were not eligible," states Pew.

The decision to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses is made at the state level, and debates about issuing licenses often address the impact on public safety, insurance, and accident rates.

May states reported that applicants had difficulty passing written tests and needed to take them several times before they did so.

According to a spokesperson from the Delaware Department of Transportation, the program does not begin until after Dec. 27, and questions about the program could not be answered until after applicants began to apply.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment by press time.