Letter from the Editor

Monday, March 28, 2005

Driving and the illegal immigrant

It is not the simple issue some make it out to be, which is why the Iowa Senate didn't exactly leap to pick up this political hot potato. Many are outraged that the state would consider allowing unauthorized immigrants in the United States to have drivers' licenses.

They have a point, too. There seems to be plenty of motivation for illegal immigration already, based on a number of arrests we have seen in Storm Lake of late involving faked identities and/or papers. If there is any feeble effort remaining at all to make the borders at all meaningful, handing out licenses like candy to illegals would finish undermining it.

So it does seem simple, and the Iowa Supreme Court has so far agreed. Lawmakers decided not to decide.

When you think about it, though, you begin to wonder if it really is all that black and white.

Legal, illegal, or in that frustrating gray tangle of visas, passports or undocumentation, people are going to drive cars if they can get their hands on them. Short of setting up roadblocks to check every driver's birth certificate and fingerprints, we aren't going to stop that.

The question becomes whether we would want an immigrant to have taken a driving test, to have a valid ID and to presumably be put in a position to obtain car insurance before they use the local streets and highway, or whether we would want them untested, unlicensed, uninsured and very possibly prepared to flee from authorities when they do it.

The Iowa Supreme Court has recently decided that illegal and undocumented aliens do not have a constitutional right to a driver's license, and without a question, they are right. In fact, no one has a constitutional right to a license until they have proven fit for it, and only as long as they continue to do so.

But in our righteous indignation, we have to make room for reality, too. Keeping our streets as safe as possible is darn good realism.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is wiggle room for a compromise - a temporary license granted to the immigrant with a valid federal ID number and birth certificate - with a required driving test and proof of insurance. And a mandatory loss of license in the event of any crime perpetrated from aggravated misdemeanor on up. Perhaps, if our drivers license station technology is up to date with INS files, this process could even help to identify those who are using fake identities or who are repeat legal offenders.

For those legitimately in a gray area and seeking to become valid citizens, it would allow a better chance to get to and from a job and to get groceries to families.

It is not a question of the "right" to a license for the clearly illegal; they have earned no such privilege.

It is a question of keeping the streets as safe as possible for everyone by testing and documenting all drivers. We may wish we had thought a little deeper about such a compromise, when someone pays an awful price.