March 26, 2023


The Number One Source For Business

Local legislator brings bill to grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants

Estefania Mondragon is one of the young Idaho activists organizing a campaign that would allow undocumented Idahoans the ability to get a driver’s license. Mondragon is executive director of PODER of Idaho. | Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — An Idaho Republican’s bill that would issue driving privileges to undocumented immigrants — and any Idahoan who doesn’t want the federal Star Card — is back at the Legislature and being introduced this session.

Under current Idaho law, an undocumented person cannot obtain a driver’s license, register a vehicle or get the vehicle insured. Senate Bill 1132, introduced by Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, would create a Driver’s Authorization Card that would allow driving privileges, and also access to driver training courses and the ability to purchase insurance.

Users would pay an annual fee but not be required to have the extensive documentation needed to get a driver’s license — Star Card or otherwise. Cardholders would have to provide proof of Idaho residency, like a power bill, and an identifying birth certificate.

The card could not be used to vote, as endorsement of lawful entry to the United States or for other federal purposes. Noncitizen voting is a federal crime that could put even a legal permanent resident at risk for deportation.

The District of Columbia and 17 states, including Washington, Utah and Nevada, allow unauthorized residents to have driving privileges.

Guthrie contemplated introducing the bill during a previous legislative session, but ultimately decided to wait until this year. He told the Statesman last year that he started working on the issue because of constituent concerns, especially from farmers in his district.

“It’s critical that we find a way to get those who are driving, particularly on our rural roads in agricultural communities, a way to be properly trained,” Guthrie wrote in a Friday press release. “Studies from other states show that by doing this, we are minimizing accidents and hit and runs, and creating overall safety for everyone on the road.”

The Senate State Affairs committee, where Guthrie is vice-chair, approved the proposed legislation to be printed and sent to the Senate’s Transportation Committee on Friday morning. The bill, which hasn’t had a hearing yet, is supported by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, Associated General Contractors of Idaho, and other groups.

“Like many others, I am frustrated with the U.S. immigration policy and have waited decades for change that never seems to come,” McCammon wrote in an op-ed about his proposal last year. “In the meantime, we have a road safety issue that I believe we have a chance to help mitigate. As a legislator, I try to look at a problem and help craft sensible solutions.”


In the press release announcing the bill, Guthrie cited benefits of the proposed legislation recently published in a report by the nonpartisan Office of Performance Evaluation (OPE), which serves the Idaho Legislature. Although the OPE report could not find conclusive evidence for how issuing undocumented immigrants licenses would affect road safety, it did find that accidents with unlicensed drivers are three times deadlier than those with licensed drivers; the average property damage claim involving an unlicensed driver is $22,000 higher; and unlicensed drivers are 9.5 times more likely to flee the scene of a fatal accident.

Utah and New Mexico saw drops in state rates of uninsured drivers, traffic fatalities and alcohol-related crashes after the implementation of similar programs, according to a Colorado fiscal study cited by the bill’s proponents.

The report also predicted that of the roughly 37,000 undocumented immigrants living in Idaho, about 17,600 would sign up for the card in the first 30 months of the program.

Similar programs in neighboring states could serve as a model for Idaho, OPE director Rakesh Mohan wrote in his Jan. 21 introduction to the report. The cost for implementation could be offset by the $25 fee for cardholders, bringing in an estimated $700,000 in 30 months, according to press releases.

“If the Legislature were to grant driving authority to unauthorized immigrants, the cost to provide such authority would be offset by revenue from fees of the program,” Mohan wrote.

Guthrie cited wide support from businesses and leaders across Idaho industries, many of whom want to make driving safer and easier for immigrants who are already living and working in Idaho.

Wayne Hammon, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Idaho, said that’s one of the reasons why the organization is supporting the bill.

“Contractors operate all across the state,” Hammon told the Statesman. “They have large fleets of vehicles … that spend a lot of time on the road. In addition, about half of my members work on road construction and they’re in the roadway. They look at the idea of bringing people who are driving illegally or driving out of the system, onto the system, holding them accountable, giving them training … is a good investment. I mean, it’ll save lives, and it will reduce costs for employers.”

The Idaho Dairymen’s Association supported the idea of the legislation last year before Guthrie decided not to introduce it. CEO Rick Naerebout echoed Hammon’s beliefs and said Idaho can’t solve federal immigration problems.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we think these individuals are not here and not driving already,” Naerebout said. “For us it’s going to be an opportunity that will make them a more reliable employee, transporting themselves to and from work, more readily and without fear of driving without a license.”


A grass-roots effort to raise support for immigrant driving privileges is running parallel to the legislation’s introduction. The Manejando Sin Miedo campaign (Driving Without Fear), organized by advocacy group PODER of Idaho and the ACLU of Idaho, is gathering signatures from around the state for a petition supporting driving privileges.

“PODER is excited the Drivers Authorization Card Proposal is moving forward through the legislative process,” executive director Estefania Mondragon told the Statesman on Friday. “Although a small step, we look forward to working with constituent groups and industry partners to move this bill forward to ensure everyone in Idaho has some form of driver’s authorization and gives all drivers peace of mind.”

In Idaho, undocumented immigrants work mostly in the agricultural, manufacturing and service industries, according to the OPE report. The Center for Migration Studies estimates that 4.6{de3fc13d4eb210e6ea91a63b91641ad51ecf4a1f1306988bf846a537e7024eeb} of Idaho’s essential workers are unauthorized immigrants, whereas they are an estimated 40{de3fc13d4eb210e6ea91a63b91641ad51ecf4a1f1306988bf846a537e7024eeb} of Idaho’s agricultural workforce.

The Manejando Sin Miedo campaign is focused on making sure the undocumented community can participate in the local economy and carry out daily activities of life — driving to school, work or church — without fear, Mondragon said.

It has not been uncommon, especially under the Trump administration, for minor traffic violations to result in deportations, according to the OPE report. However, a 2018 change in Idaho state code did make it more difficult to be jailed for driving without a license, the report pointed out. Nevertheless, some agencies — such as the Canyon County jail in Caldwell — have close, documented relationships with immigration officials.

“I felt like I was imprisoned in my own house,” one Idaho man shared in an anonymous testimonial produced and published by the Manejando Sin Miedo campaign on Facebook. “… I didn’t dare drive.”

The OPE report pointed out that some undocumented immigrants might be concerned about joining the program over fear that the data would be shared with immigration officials. Utah allows federal immigration authorities to search its division of motor vehicles records with a subpoena or case number, the report indicates, and Utah immigration advocates have advised caution around applying for that state’s cards because of this.

“If this was a mandate, I could understand the apprehension,” Guthrie told the Statesman on Friday. “But this is an elective option. I think the individual would have to weigh whether or not that places him in a risk for deportation. Quite frankly, I think it does just the opposite, and it puts them in a better situation with legal, licensed, insured presence on the road.“