Beginning January 2nd, 2021, undocumented immigrants living in Virginia will be able to apply for official driving credentials, called a driver privilege card, with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), allowing non-citizens to lawfully drive within the Commonwealth for the first time.
The change in the state code stems from legislation the Democratic-controlled General Assembly passed earlier this year during the 2020 regular session and signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.
“We are pleased to offer this new credential to give thousands of tax-paying Virginians the opportunity to drive legally on our roadways, something they previously have not been able to do,” DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb said in a press release.
Once the new year rolls around, Virginia will join 15 other states and Washington D.C. that give undocumented immigrants driver’s privileges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In order to be eligible to obtain a driver privilege card, which costs $50, applicants must be a non-U.S. citizen who is a resident of Virginia, have reported income from Virginia sources or have been claimed as a dependent on a tax return within the last year, and a person’s driving privilege must not be suspended or revoked in Virginia or any other state, according to the DMV.
Additionally, those interested in applying for the credentials will need to show two proofs of identity and Virginia residency, proof of your social security number, if issued one, or your individual taxpayer identification number and a tax return documentation.
Those documents must be originals, no photocopies or temporary documents, and will be subject to verification, the DMV said.
Supports of the change argue that it will encourage safety, accountability and responsibility for not just undocumented immigrants, but for all Virginians driving on the roadways.
“Driver privilege cards make our roads safer,” Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William County), one of the bill’s chief co-patrons, told The Virginia Star. “They reduce traffic accidents, including alcohol-related crashes. I’m glad we’ve joined Washington D.C. and Maryland in adopting such a commonsense measure for public safety.”
A co-patron of the legislation, Del. Chris Hurst (D-Montgomery County), said undocumented immigrants are on the road whether people like it or not because they commute to work, so why not try to somewhat legitimize that group of drivers.
Conversely, opponents of the law say the driver privilege card is an attempt to provide undocumented immigrants a type of legal status.
“I do not think it’s a good idea,” Chuck Smith, a GOP candidate for attorney general, told The Star. “There is an attempt in the passage of this law to create some type of sanctuary status for people who have no right to be in the United States to start with.”
“I am not in favor of any attempt by the General Assembly, by the governor and, certainly, by the attorney general to convey legal status to people simply by giving them a driver’s license,” Smith continued.
The Star reached out to the other attorney general candidates, Delegates Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) and Jay Jones (Norfolk) for comment, but did not get responses before press time.
Republican Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), who voted against the bill in committee, said the change was a “really bad idea” and does not believe people that entered the county through illegal means should be given the privilege to drive.
The card is a valid form of identification in the state, but not considered REAL-ID compliant, and will expire on a person’s birthday in the second year after issuance. Furthermore, the card does not confer voting rights and cannot be used to board flights or enter federal facilities.
According to NBC 4 Washington, an estimated 300,000 immigrants in Virginia stand to benefit from the new law.
More information on applying for a driver privilege card can be found here.
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