In 2005, the Legislature created a driver privilege card that allows undocumented aliens to operate a car legally in Utah. Ever since, opponents of illegal immigration have been trying to repeal it. They're still trying. But it was good policy in 2005 and it remains so today.
Why? Because it makes the state's roads and highways safer by encouraging people to pass the driver tests. It familiarizes people from other nations with the rules of the road. It also enables them to buy insurance.
Despite this, Sen. Steven Urquhart, R-St. George, is championing SB170, which would repeal all driver privilege cards at the end of this year and prohibit the Driver License Division from issuing any more. Urquhart argues that the cards make Utah a magnet for illegal immigration.
But it is likely that economic conditions do much more to make Utah a "magnet" than driving privilege cards do. An audit in 2008 showed that 35,000 people had obtained the cards after they were created in 2005 and illegal aliens became ineligible for Utah driver licenses. But when the Utah and national economies collapsed, beginning in 2007, illegal immigration plummeted. Employment, not driving cards, is the real magnet.
Nevertheless, let's say, for the sake of argument, that the driver privilege cards make life a bit more normal for illegal aliens. They may not fear traffic stops as much, for example.
Consider the up side. Utah roads should be safer when more drivers know the rules. That, too, is hard to prove, but it makes more sense than the "magnet" theory. All Utah drivers definitely benefit when more people are insured because it lowers their premiums.
On balance, then, Utah should continue to offer the card. Even if the state doesn't, many illegal aliens are going to drive. They just won't have incentive to do so legally.
Remember, too, that the driver privilege cards are not official government identification. They say so right on the card, which is made to look different than a Utah driver license. So the cards do not undermine security.
The real threat to security is counterfeit documents. To the extent that the driver privilege card reduces the need for phony driver licenses or ID, it may actually improve security.
Of course, the real answer to this conundrum is comprehensive immigration reform enacted by Congress. The reason Utah has a driver privilege card at all is due to the shameful neglect of the larger issues in Washington. As with other Utah attempts to deal with immigration impacts, this one is a flawed work-around of a broken system. But short of reform, it's worth keeping.
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