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March 27, 2020

The ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to the Governor of Virginia today asking him to make Virginia driver's liceneses accessible to all Virginians, regardless of immigration status. Currently, Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 1211, which, as passed by the House and Senate, would grant driver’s privilege cards – but not access to existing state (not REAL-ID) licenses – to any Virginia resident regardless of their immigration status. The ACLU of Virginia strongly opposes driver’s privilege cards and urges the Governor to propose amendments to Senate Bill 34 and HB 1211 that will enable and require all Virginia residents to obtain standard Virginia driver’s licenses regardless of status.

"Requiring and enabling every resident of Virginia to obtain a Virginia state driver’s license is essential to public safety," stated the letter. "Having everyone who drives licensed and insured will make Virginia’s roads safer for everyone. Particularly in many parts of the Commonwealth where public transit is not a viable alternative, people must be able to drive to get to work, bring children to and from school, and get to medical appointments. Even where public transit is an option, this is especially important during the current health crisis and the heightened risk of serious harm from COVID-19 exposure to people out in public. To keep us all safe in this current health crisis, it is vital that Virginia have sensible, equitable polices that would allow individuals to drive safely to help maintain physical distance and to have access to medical care and other life necessities."

The letter pointed out that SB 34 and HB 1211 create a whole new mechanism to allow some Virginia residents to drive legally with “driver’s privilege cards.” The ACLU of Virginia believes that creating this new class of authority for drivers imposes unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to licensed driving that do nothing to keep us safe, either on the roads or otherwise.  

"The creation of a new class of driving authority is bad public policy and imposes unnecessary administrative burdens on the motor vehicle licensing system at a time when REAL-ID compliance already is stressing the system," stated the letter. "Moreover, creating this new class of authorized drivers is an invitation to discrimination by law enforcement and insurance companies among others, in part because of the unduly porous nature of current “protections” in place under federal and state law to guard the privacy of people’s information gathered and stored in the Department of Motor Vehicles database."

"Add to that the lack of a rational basis for the requirement that people seeking driver’s privilege cards, and only those seeking driver’s privilege cards, will be required to show that they have paid Virginia taxes to acquire the cards, a required showing that is discriminatory on its face, imposes new and unnecessary burdens on the tax department (at a time of great revenue uncertainty and stress) and on the DMV. This requirement potentially compromises people’s privacy without any corresponding benefit to the public in terms of enhanced safety, on the roads or otherwise. The effect of this targeted tax requirement is to make DMV a de facto tax collector at precisely the time when the trend is away from using driver’s licenses as enforcement tools for requirements that have nothing to do with the safety of our roads."

The ACLU of Virginia urged Gov. Northam to consider carefully the context in which this decision to grant Virginia driver's licenses for all is being made. "The current federal administration is aggressively pursuing an anti-immigration agenda and has shown that it will use every tool available, humane or not, in seeking to target and remove even legal immigrants from our country," stated the letter. "It is vital that Virginia act affirmatively to offer immigrant drivers the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses like everyone else, reducing the risk of discrimination and wholesale exposure inherent in driver’s privilege cards, and encouraging all drivers to be licensed, thereby, increasing public safety and reducing the risk that a routine traffic stop can result in arrest, detention, or even deportation. Families deserve to stay together and everyone deserves safe roads."

You can read the full letter in the attachment below.