CT's "Drive Only" Licenses For Undocumented Residents A Reality Thanks To Hard Work

Bill Sarno

Beginning with the new year, hundreds of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are Hispanic, will be reporting each week to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicle offices to begin the process of obtaining a new type of state-issued driver’s license.
These licenses, which are not valid for state or federal identification purposes or to vote, were created to help immigrants and to improve public safety by ensuring all drivers are tested and know the rules for driving. They also represent a new revenue source for the state.
Organizations such as the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission and individuals such as former LPRAC member Carlos Candal devoted years of research and tenacious lobbying to make this program a reality.
As many as 65,000 immigrants are expected to apply for these drive-only licenses. While many are expected to be Spanish speaking, the program is open to all undocumented aliens and provisions have been made people whose primary language is French, Polish, Italian or Portuguese.
Since Dec. 1, when the state began accepting applications exclusively online for the learner’s permit knowledge and vision tests, approximately 28,000 immigrants have made appointments. For many, the license is essential to holding a job that involves driving and will remove an element of stress and uncertainty.
The first applicants are due to arrive Jan. 2 and DMV is ready, said department spokesman William Seymour.
DMV expects to process learner’s permits for about 1,000 undocumented immigrants per week, Seymour said.
That this licensing program is a reality to a large extent reflects the dedication of supporters like Candal, a Spanish-speaking immigration and personal injury attorney based in New Haven.
LPRAC recently presented Candal with a special recognition award to honor him as the “leading advocate” of Connecticut’s Drive Only Program.
Candal, who is of Argentine descent, not only helped gather the information to support the license initiative but also had to overcome doubts by other commissioners that the legislature would see the light.
“Carlos Candal played a pivotal role convincing our board about the economic and public safety benefits of the “drive only” program for immigrants,” said Richard A. Cruz, LPRAC chairman. “His research at LPRAC started several years ago and evolved at a time when many experts in the field didn’t believe lawmakers in Connecticut had the political will to explore this policy.”
In accepting the award, Candal recognized that he had lots of help.
“I am proud to say that through our efforts at LPRAC, along with those of passionate church leaders, such as Father James Manship of St. Rose de Lima Church, agencies such as Connect, and courageous legislators such as state Representative Juan Candelaria, we played an instrumental role in this movement.”
LPRAC conducted a year-long study in 2011 to examine the potential economic and public safety benefits to the state and found there was a potential annual revenue benefit of nearly $3 million in license and registration fees.
An immigrant can expect to pay $40 for the examinations and $19 for the learner’s permit during the first visit. Down the road, there will be a $72 charge for the “drive only” license itself.
With the new license approved in 2013, the motor vehicle agency has had two years to prepare for the program. This work included upgrading the written test and the driver’s manual, which is available in English and Spanish, and by adding tests in Portuguese, French, Italian and Polish, with Mandarin Chinese in the pipeline, Seymour said.
The language provisions were based on census information regarding what languages were prevalent in at least one percent of the state’s households.
While revenue was a factor in the argument for the new license, for Candal and other supporters, public safety was a primary issue and a major concern is that many undocumented immigrants are driving anyway without proper training or vehicle registration.
The LPRAC study also found  that granting driver’s licenses to this population would reduce the number of hit-and-runs and increase the number of insured motorists on the road and therefore improve public safety.
By the end of 2012, the  commission was ready to make the new licensing  part of its legislative agenda for 2013 and stated, “the Commission strongly believes that it would benefit all state residents if immigrants were able to obtain driver’s licenses. This would ensure that immigrants are tested on the laws of the road, have their vision checked, pay for licenses and car registration and most importantly purchase car insurance.”
Anyone who receives a learner’s permit will have to wait at least 90 days to take the road skills test, which means that the first “drive only” licenses will probably not be issued early April.
Some legislators had questioned DMV’s ability to absorb potentially thousands of new customers overnight. and the cost of hiring people to handle the extra load. However, Seymour said the department will proceed in an orderly fashion and no staff was added for this program.
DMV will offer “drive-only” licenses to undocumented individuals 16 and older who do not legally reside in the country or lack a Social Security number.
Testing is on an appointment only basis and those applying now may have to wait until late spring or early summer to be tested, Seymour said.
In a letter to the Hartford Courant last summer, Andrew Channing Meehan, policy director of Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, nonprofit advocacy group, said that “drive only” licenses  “present a real threat to identity security”
He suggested the Connecticut DMV should establish processes that mitigate the risk of identity theft and fraud.
In this regard, the new license clearly states that it is “not for federal identification,” Seymour said. In addition, the state requires specific types of proof of identity and residence to obtain this license and the law prohibits the commissioner from issuing such a license to a person convicted of a felony in Connecticut.
The bottom line, said LPRAC Executive Director Werner Oyanadel in a press release, “is that the “state will reap millions of dollars in annual revenue, our roads will be safer, and our court system will not be clogged by tens of thousands of minor motor vehicle infractions, thus allowing government resources to be utilized in other ways that will benefit all Connecticut residents.”
photo:  www.hildycentric.net