The Legislature Shouldn’t Hit-And-Run on Immigration

You might think a proposal to force undocumented immigrants to be background checked, fingerprinted, photographed and entered into a database would be an easy sell with Republican lawmakers. But, you’d be wrong.

With time quickly running out in the legislative session, a plan to make it possible for undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver permit has stalled in legislature. The idea’s Republican champion in the House, Rep. Byron Cook of Corsicana, said the process has slowed way down but he’s still hopeful the proposal can become law. “Right now, we are pushing a big rock uphill,” he told me.

If enacted, undocumented immigrants would be able to legally drive but only if they submitted to all the things I mentioned, including that background check. If conservatives truly worry that some of these people may be here to do us harm, why wouldn’t we take advantage of the state’s criminal background check capabilities?

The plan was passed out of a House committee with bipartisan support after law enforcement gave it a strong endorsement. Austin’s police chief Art Acevedo said it would “Absolutely enhance the safety of all Texans.” He added that the most common headache his department deals with is when drivers call to say they’ve been hit by someone without car insurance who then flees the scene.

And that’s where this directly affects nearly every Texan. If your car is hit by someone without a license or one of these permits, that means they’ll be driving without insurance. Reputable companies will not sell car insurance to someone without a license. Director of the Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, testified “You’re not going to get the insurance unless you have a permit to drive.” If someone runs into me and my family, the first question on my mind will be whether they have proof of insurance, not proof of citizenship.

Why are we here?

A change in the law in 2011 pushed by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, makes it now impossible for undocumented drivers in Texas to renew their licenses. Williams says he was simply bringing the Texas driver’s license into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act, which means a person must be in compliance with federal immigration laws to get a photo ID. I believe Williams was acting in good faith, but the net effect is we now have a problem in the form of 2 million undocumented drivers who cannot renew their licenses. Let’s be crystal clear: Thousands had already legally obtained a license and now they cannot renew them.

The new driver permits, by law, could not look anything like the driver’s license you’re used to. The DPS would design them to look like a certificate. They could not be used to board an airplane or vote, which is a worry of some grassroots conservatives. I don’t share their concern on that last point, since Democratic and Republican activists alike will tell you it is difficult enough to get Hispanic citizens to the polls, let alone the undocumented.

With the legislative session ending in a couple weeks, supporters of this common sense reform are trying to stay optimistic.

“The fat lady hasn’t sung,” said Norman Adams, a longtime GOP booster who successfully argued last year for the Texas Republican Party to endorse a guest worker program in its platform. “Just about every Republican legislator I’ve talked to privately says they’re for the policy,” Adams said. “What they’re worried about is politics. They don’t want a primary opponent beating them up in a 30 second spot that’s all about how they gave something to illegals.”

When I’ve tried to ask some Republican lawmakers about this at the capitol, they scurried away muttering about how they didn’t have time to talk. Next time you or a loved one is in a car wreck, I hope the other driver doesn’t take off just as quickly because these lawmakers stood in the way of them buying insurance.

Originally posted on the Dallas Morning News.


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