Immigrants living in the District illegally may soon be able to apply for a driver’s license indistinguishable from those issued to legal residents, following D.C. Council action Tuesday.
A council committee voted unanimously to modify a proposal from Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) that would allow residents living in the District illegally to secure local identification and driving rights for the first time. Under Gray’s version of the legislation, applicants who could not prove their citizenship would have their identification cards marked as “not acceptable by federal agencies for official purposes.”
That provision was intended to comply with a federal law, the REAL ID Act, that requires localities to verify the “lawful status” of people issued driver’s licenses or identification cards. Without it, Gray administration officials fear, District licenses might become invalid for federal purposes ranging from boarding airline flights to applying for Social Security benefits.
Immigrant advocates and their backers on the council argued that distinguishing between immigrant and non-immigrant licenses would effectively mark holders of the former as illegal. “It’s like a scarlet letter on undocumented residents,” said Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).