Nevada has become the latest state to allow illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license — even as public opinion polls show that the great majority of Americans oppose such measures.
A national poll conducted in October by Rasmussen Reports found that 68 percent of likely U.S. voters think illegal immigrants should not be allowed to obtain state driver's licenses. Just 22 percent favor licenses for illegals in their state.
Critics say the laws encourage illegal immigration by legitimizing the status of those who come to the United States illegally.
"It is a kind of amnesty. It doesn't given them any legal status, but by giving them a government-issued ID, it helps them imbed in society," Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., said in an interview with Newsmax.
"This is a way of protecting illegals from coming to the attention of immigration authorities," Krikorian said. "It's a way of documenting the undocumented."
In Nevada, Democratic-led lawmakers approved a driver's license law in 2013. It was signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, the state's first Hispanic governor, who considers it a public safety measure, and went into effect at the beginning of this month.
"Allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's privilege card will increase the number of drivers on Nevada's roads that are insured and aware of traffic rules and regulations," Sandoval said in a statement after signing the bill.
When Nevada began issuing licenses on Jan. 2, long lines formed at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Las Vegas, waiting for the 8 a.m. opening of the office. The Associated Press reported that "thousands of Nevada immigrants" sought to obtain licenses on the first day.
Those applying for the driving privilege cards must show some proof of their identity as well as evidence of Nevada residency and insurance. New drivers must pass a driving test, and pay to retake the test if they fail.
The information provided for the licenses, however, may not be used against them for purposes of enforcing immigration laws, a key provision in a state like Nevada where about a fourth of all residents are Latino.
Other states that have approved similar laws include Utah, Washington, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, California, New Mexico, and Illinois, along with the District of Columbia.
Said California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, in signing his state's law last year: "No longer are undocumented people in the shadows. They are alive and well and respected in the State of California."
The climate of permissiveness licenses for illegals follows a crackdown period after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacksthat came in response to widespread fears of foreign-born terrorists entering the country.
"After 9-11, things were tightening up. Now those states that are mainly run by Democrats are backtracking," said Krikorian, noting that Congress has given leeway through the REAL ID law to states to issue immigrant driver's cards, but those cannot be used for federal identification purposes like boarding planes.
New Mexico, with the nation's largest Hispanic population, is one state attempting to buck the trend. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is hoping to convince the Democratic-led state legislature to repeal the state's current law, which offers licenses to illegals.She has tried before and failed, but vows to continue.
Polling shows that Martinez has support for her position, said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., a New Mexico firm that has polled for the Albuquerque Journal twice on the issue.
"Both times, the polls that we did for the Journal showed approximately 70 percent of registered voters opposed granting licenses to undocumented workers," Sanderoff told Newsmax.
"I think it's a significant issue to the extent that the governor is once again latching onto it," he said.
New Mexico differs from its heavily Hispanic neighbor Arizona, where its governor, Republican Jan Brewer, has taken an aggressive stance against illegals in her state. In New Mexico, most Hispanic residents are natives, tracing their lineage back to Spain, said Sanderoff.
"Most New Mexicans are Americans, born and raised here, more so than the average state," he said, which likely explains why voters there oppose the law by a wide margin.
The trend could continue as Congress renews its debate on immigration reform this year and proponents continue to push for the measure in more states.
"The push for it is nationally coordinated," Krikorian said. "There is a broader push by national groups to have more say in the issue. They see it in two ways. First, as a practical matter, it helps to imbed the illegal immigrants in the U.S., making it less likely they will leave. Also, it will be presented as evidence of nationwide momentum for immigration 'reform.'"
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