Sen. McLachlan: Issuing CT Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants is Poor Public Policy [Danbury News-Times]

May 31, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Danbury News-Times

HARTFORD — Majority Democrats in the state Senate wanted to make it about public safety on Connecticut streets.

But Republicans brought the implications of a national hot-button issue to the Senate floor on Wednesday night, charging that allowing illegal immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses in Connecticut would be a big step toward granting them full legal status.

Republicans said that issue should be decided in Washington, not here.

If the proposed legislation takes effect, starting in January 2015, immigrants living in Connecticut without legal documentation could show proof of identity, including passports, evidence they lived in the state for 90 days and an affidavit attesting they are seeking to apply for legal residency.

They would be given criminal background checks for in-state crimes, then allowed to take driver’s tests.

“Why is a state agency issuing a legal ID to undocumented individuals?” asked Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, whose city has seen an influx of undocumented residents from Brazil and Ecuador.

“I have had lots of conversations with them,” McLachlan said. “I can’t tell you how few are here with a passport from their country.”

McLachlan warned that lawmakers are wading into the national issue.

“That’s not your job, to fix immigration law in America,” he said. “I have a lot of constituents at home who don’t want this to happen. This is rewarding people who are here illegally. When are you going to look and see that you’re in the minority and not the majority?”

McLachlan also warned of the hidden costs that would result from longer lines at state Department of Motor Vehicle offices. “These are not easy verification processes,” he said.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, ranking member of the Transportation Committee, recalled the 2004 scandal in the Bridgeport DMV office, where seven employees were implicated in a yearlong bribery conspiracy to sell thousands of fake licenses for cash.

“Lawmakers at the time were concerned that Connecticut had become a national clearing house for ID cards for illegal immigrants,” Boucher said.

“This bill, however, is in direct conflict with federal law,” she said.

She said that many states that adopted similar legislation turned around later and repealed their laws, including Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Tennessee and California.

The 22-14 Democratic majority was expected to give illegal immigrants the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses and join mainstream drivers on state roads. The bill says that the licenses could not be used for voter identification.

“It’s in the interest of all Connecticut citizens to have safe, registered drivers,” said Sen. Andrew M. Maynard, D-Stonington.
Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, who has worked on the legislation, said it’s not the role of the General Assembly to decide national immigration policy.

“This really is about safe highways, safe streets, about people navigating our highways and competent drivers who understand the rules of the road,” Ayala said Wednesday.

Passage of the bill, which won approval in the House last week after an all-night debate and a 74-55 vote, would send the legislation to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk for final review.

The legislation, which died in the Transportation Committee at the end of February, was revived this month by Democratic leaders and aimed at an estimated 54,000 people.