Policy: Immigration

Mayor Vincent Gray seeks driver's licenses for D.C. illegal immigrants

Local,DC,Transportation,Alan Blinder,Vincent Gray,Immigration

In a move that his administration is already declaring "trailblazing," D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray will propose on Thursday allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses and identification cards.

"If the mayor's bill becomes law, all eligible residents -- documented or not -- will have the opportunity to receive a driver's license and purchase auto insurance, making District roads safer," the D.C. Office on African Affairs said. "Of equal importance, the bill will give District residents who otherwise contribute greatly to the civic life of the District the equality and dignity they deserve."

In its own message, the city's Office on Latino Affairs described the measure as "a monumental step to protect the civil rights of many undocumented residents."

Illinois, New Mexico and Washington already allow illegal immigrants to receive licenses.

Another look
Congress will have to review any changes to the District's driver's license laws. Although it has rarely done so, Congress could move to block any modifications from taking effect.

Gray's spokesman refused to comment on the mayor's forthcoming legislation, and Gray declined to elaborate on his plans Wednesday.

"We'll have something more official tomorrow," Gray said at a news conference. "I really want to wait on the details."

An administration official, who requested anonymity to avoid upstaging Gray, said the mayor will be offering his own legislation instead of simply endorsing a proposal introduced in January by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham.

That bill, which would bar the District from denying a license to someone without a Social Security number, attracted initial support from nearly the entire council.

But the administration official said Gray was worried that the legislators' proposal would not comply with a 2005 federal law governing forms of identification.

"It's been in the works for a long time," the official said. "The reason it took so long was because we've been very precise on the language."

Mendelson told The Washington Examiner that he thought the District could accommodate his proposal and Gray's.

"I believe the two proposals can work together," Mendelson said. "I'm inclined to support the mayor's bill and continue to support my bill."

Word of Gray's ambitions drew immediate criticism from activists who have been wary of efforts like the mayor's.

"Just because people are here, it doesn't mean they have to be rewarded with additional benefits," said Ira Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "Where do you draw the line and say people need to obey laws?"

Gray will announce his proposal on the same day that Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will sign into law a plan allowing residents without proof of immigration status to apply for driver's licenses.

Examiner Staff Writer Eric P. Newcomer contributed to this report.

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