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Idaho jumps on an anti-immigrant bandwagon

Tom Henderson
January 30, 2008
Lewiston Morning Tribune

A bill to keep illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses is plowing its way through the Idaho Legislature.

Of course it is.

Legislators know a bandwagon when they see one.

Under intense public pressure, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski just signed an executive order designed to crack down on illegal immigrants getting legal identification. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer saw his approval ratings evaporate last year after suggesting that illegal immigrants should be able to get driver's licenses after all.

The sight of Spitzer being publicly pilloried wasn't lost on other states. Tightening licensing requirements has become a national fad. Never underestimate people's outrage toward illegal immigrants getting anything - especially a license to drive.

However, as so often happens when decisions are made more out of outrage than reason, attempts to keep licenses away from illegal immigrants are fraught with unintended consequences.

Supporters of the Idaho bill say illegal immigrants use out-of-state documents to obtain licenses. True, but so do people legally in the country, such as professionals, students, scholars and temporary workers.

The bill - on its way to the full House after being passed by the Transportation Committee - cracks down on the use of out-of-state documents. But in so doing, it threatens to hurt more than illegal immigrants.

"There's a real risk that the Idaho Department of Transportation is going to be denying driver's licenses to people who are authorized to be here to work," says Kathryn Railsback, a Boise immigration lawyer. "It's going to have the effect of entangling Idaho state government in the complicated immigration system."

Besides, at the risk of heresy, what's wrong with illegal immigrants having driver's licenses? As Spitzer pointed out, before he was drowned out, licenses aren't just for the benefit of drivers. They give the state a way to track people.

In the case of illegal immigrants, that might come in handy.

State Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, says the bill will result only in more unlicensed drivers. "I think we need to give people a driver's license, regardless of their status, for the safety of the public," she says.

She's right - but given people's emotions about illegal immigration - she will also be very, very lonely.

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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