A project of the Center for Community Change

Licensing Fairness

By: Kris Kelkar

I don’t know what I would do without my driver’s license. Being from Los Angeles, I find driving to be an essential to getting my way around. But my license is more than that – just yesterday I was asked for my license to confirm my relationship to my father when using my health insurance.

segregation00My license is a sense of security – it verifies my existence as I know it to others. But, under stipulations of the REAL ID Act,  Washington DC Mayor Gray was threatening to take away that sense of security in his new law that would mandate drivers licenses issued to undocumented immigrant residents be stamped with the phrase, “not acceptable by federal agencies for official purposes” – effectively proclaiming to the world their undocumented status.

It is the exact opposite of security – those licenses issued to unnaturalized residents would be ticking time bombs in their pockets, waiting to explode when a federal law enforcement officer would see it and turn their world up-side-down.

This policy is not fair- if anything it is discriminatory in the exact same way as state-sanctioned segregation. The Supreme Court’s decision on Plessy v. Ferguson found segregation to be constitutional under the idea that both blocks and whites could live “separate, but equal.”

But that statement – “separate, but equal” – is contradictory. You can’t be simultaneously both, just like D.C. cannot be fairly issuing valid licenses for all people – regardless of immigrant status, and at the same time marking the ones given to undocumented with a statement on the back of it revealing their status.

It is threatening, it is invalidating, and it is just wrong. Immigrants, regardless of their status as documented or undocumented, make major contributions to this country. They participate in the labor force, pay taxes, and raise children who in turn contribute to society as well!

My father is an immigrant, and as the son of an immigrant, I know how tough it is to integrate into American society. Licenses that would have marked my father as different from the rest of his peers and friends only would have made it tougher! We aren’t different. We are all people trying to achieve the American dream, so why should our licenses say otherwise?

That is why I am proud of D.C.’s changes to the legislation. At the beginning of July, the D.C. council voted in favor of removing the identifying stamp for licenses issued to undocumented immigrants.  While Congress continues to take its sweet time with passing immigration reform, it is good to know that smaller levels of government are working towards progress within their capacities.

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