February 27, 2023

Indiana lawmakers discard immigrant driving cards proposal

Supporters of an Indiana proposal that would allow immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain state-issued cards giving them permission to drive celebrate after the bill was endorsed by a state Senate committee on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, inside the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. - AP Photo/Tom Davies

Supporters of an Indiana proposal that would allow immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain state-issued cards giving them permission to drive celebrate after the bill was endorsed by a state Senate committee on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, inside the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

AP Photo/Tom Davies

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers have sidelined a proposal that would have allowed immigrants living in the country illegally to obtain state-issued cards giving them permission to drive.

A state Senate committee had endorsed the bill in early February. But it failed to advance through another committee before a deadline this week for action.

The bill aimed to establish driver privilege cards that are already issued in several other states. The proposal would have had Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles issue the cards to immigrants who pass the state’s driving test, have paid Indiana taxes in the past year, submitted to a fingerprint background check and provide proof of auto insurance.

Immigrant advocates cheered the Homeland Security and Transportation Committee’s support for the bill after similar proposals introduced over the past decade were never taken up in the Republican-dominated Legislature. The bill, however, didn’t gain Senate Appropriations Committee approval, which was needed because of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ estimated $1.4 million cost to develop the new license.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said he appreciated the argument from bill supporters that such a program would improve safety on the state’s roadways and reduce the number of uninsured drivers.

Bill opponents raised objections to the state giving legal driving privileges to people who were not following federal immigration laws.

Republican Sen. Blake Doriot of Goshen, the bill’s sponsor, called federal immigration policy a “bipartisan screwup” for decades but said immigrants were an important part of the state’s workforce, such as in the recreational vehicle industry, which is a major employer in his northern Indiana district.

Bray said Thursday that such a policy shift sometimes takes several years to overcome legislative opposition.

“It’s an idea that I would imagine will continue to come back but just hard for some people to get there,” Bray said.

Eighteen states, including California, Illinois, New York and Utah, already have approved similar driving cards in recent years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Felipe Merino, an immigration attorney from Goshen who testified in favor of the Indiana bill, said supporters would continue adding to the support they have received from local officials around the state endorsing what he called a necessary step toward improving roadway safety.

“I’m very optimistic that even if this did not pass this time that next time around, instead of having to do so much running around and meeting with people, it might just take a phone call to have city councils draft a resolution in support because they are already aware of what’s going on,” Merino said.

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