By Guy Page
When Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York signed legislation on June 17 granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, some Vermonters wondered if Vermont would follow suit. In fact, illegal immigrants have been driving legally in Vermont since Jan. 1, 2014.
Act 74, AKA the “Freedom of Movement” bill signed into law June 5, 2013, establishes that “a citizen of a foreign country unable to establish legal presence in the United States who furnishes reliable proof of Vermont residence and of name, date of birth, and place of birth, and who satisfies all other requirements of this chapter for obtaining a license or permit, shall be eligible to obtain an operator’s privilege card, a junior operator’s privilege card, or a learner’s privilege card.” The applicant must furnish “reliable proof of Vermont residence and of name, date of birth, place of birth and satisfies all other requirements for obtaining a license or permit.”
Act 74 was sponsored by Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, and co-sponsored by Sens. Timothy Ashe, Claire Ayer, Ann Cummings, Sally Fox, Virginia Lyons, Richard McCormack, Anthony Pollina, Jeanette White, and David Zuckerman. It passed 105-39 in the House.
As the furor over the New York law shows, issuing drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants is not without controversy. A similar law also passed in 2013 in “blue” state Oregon was repealed in 2014 by voter referendum. In 2015 the Vermont Human Rights Commission found that the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles had reported some a Jordanian national as a suspected illegal immigrant to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to the National Conference on State Legislators, “Proponents of extending driver’s licenses to immigrants argue that licensing undocumented residents will lead to fewer hit-and-runs, more trust between immigrants and police, and increased revenue for Departments of Motor Vehicles. Opponents of expanding driving privileges assert that granting licenses to undocumented residents reduces the incentive to follow immigration laws and would lead to increased voter fraud, ID fraud, and bank fraud.”
A 2016 Pew study reported that 5,000 illegal immigrants live in Vermont. It is not known how many have received driver’s licenses.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.