Let the undocumented drive legally

Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, Charlie Crist’s running mate, signs a petition in Clearwater to let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses.
Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, Charlie Crist’s running mate, signs a petition in Clearwater to let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses. SOURCE UNITED FAMILIES

The push to secure driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in Florida took a hiatus after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the measure last year. But the inconvenience — and the injustice — that the veto imposed did not.

The issue is back in the spotlight as advocates campaign to let the undocumented drive legally. And though they are trying to get some traction with both of the gubernatorial candidates, it’s not too early to also make the case — again — in advance of next year’s legislative session.

Last year, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved — in fact, it was almost unanimous in the Republican-majority Legislature — a bill that would have allowed the teenage or adult children of undocumented immigrants to get a temporary driver’s license. These young people first had to be approved by the federal government for “deferred action” to get work permits under the Obama administration’s then-new policy. In 2012, President Obama, through executive order, delayed the deportation of a group known as the “Dreamers,” young people brought as children to the United States by parents who entered the country illegally. After the 9/11 attacks, Florida was among the first states to impose a requirement that immigration papers be presented in order to get a driver’s license.

But Gov. Scott vetoed the measure, a move the Editorial Board called “mean-spirited.” Mr. Scott said at the time that, “Given that deferred-action status does not confer substantive rights or lawful status upon an individual, Florida is best served by relying on current state law.”

It was a misguided notion, for what serves Florida best is giving people who want to work, get to school and otherwise do all the right things a chance to do so without being penalized for what their parents did.

While Congress has, for too long, refused to make the tough choices and make immigration reform a reality — and while President Obama, who promised to take one step forward on the issue, last week took two steps back until after the November elections — many states are stepping into the void. Some, such as Arizona, have tried to make it harder for law-abiding undocumented immigrants to exist. Others, have become “sanctuary” states, still others — 11 of them — have enacted laws that allow the undocumented to get driver’s licenses. Advocates want Florida to become the 12th. It’s a matter of common sense, compassion and safety.

The reality is, undocumented immigrants drive. No, they shouldn’t, but they do. They drive their kids to school, they drive to pick up groceries, they drive to get to their jobs. Right now, they are doing it illegally. Otherwise law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to society live in fear of traffic stops and being outed as undocumented, which can put them in the deportation pipeline, needlessly rupturing their families. In addition, if they could drive legally, they would have to pass safe-driving tests and have auto insurance, which helps lower the chance of accidents and to reduce costs for the broader community.

Those who rightly don’t drive, however, lose out on jobs, especially in a wide-ranging county such as Miami-Dade, which has uneven public transportation.

This issue should, indeed, come before the Legislature again. Charlie Crist has hinted at his approval; Gov. Scott could have another 180-degree moment on the campaign trail and reverse himself as he did with giving Dreamers in-state tuition. He was, at one time, dead-set against that, too.