Fox News highlighted a new law in Washington, D.C., that will allow the city's undocumented residents to obtain limited driver's licenses, airing segments that were laden with anti-immigrant language but little other information. The context missing from the Fox broadcasts is that nearly half of the country has enacted or is thinking of enacting similar laws, which law enforcement officials argue promote road safety and offer other benefits.
On November 18, Mayor Vincent Gray signed the measure passed by the D.C. Council, which will go into effect in May 2014. As The Washington Post reported, the licenses will be stamped as "not valid for official federal purposes," meaning undocumented immigrants will not be able to use them for federal identification purposes like entering federal buildings or for boarding planes.
In two segments on the law, Fox & Friends First co-host Heather Childers used inflammatory language to refer to undocumented immigrants, saying: "Illegal aliens living in Washington, D.C., will be able to get driver's licenses." She went on to note that the law will go into effect "unless Congress intervenes."
Childers repeated her report later during the show, as a graphic read: "Licenses For Illegals."
What Fox News ignored, however, is that these licenses are hardly uncommon and they provide real benefits to law enforcement.
According to the National Immigration Law Center, 11 states and Puerto Rico have passed measures that allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses. In Minnesota, a measure has passed one chamber of its legislature, and 10 other states have introduced similar proposals this session.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has noted that the majority of high-risk drivers are unlicensed: "One fatal crash in five (20%) involves a driver who is unlicensed or whose license is suspended, canceled, or revoked." The foundation further found: "Unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are validly licensed drivers."
A September 2012 study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles that examined motor vehicle records over a 23-year period produced similar results. And as Fusion reported, the "report says the number of unlicensed drivers has increased since the passage of a law in 1994 that bars undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses in California. Rates of fatal crashes have held steady since the 1994 law." The article continued:
Although state and national fatality rates are falling, the number of fatal crashes involving drivers without valid licenses increased by 17 percent nationally from 1998 to 2007. Over the same period in California, such crashes increased by 49 percent.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has been a vocal supporter of California allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses, saying:
"Why wouldn't you want to put people through a rigorous testing process? Why wouldn't you want to better identify people who are going to be here? ... It doesn't make any sense to me. And we could increase safety on the roads. When you make things illegal you cause a lot of other things by chain reaction."
Fox News previously promoted Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's argument that granting licenses to undocumented immigrants could jeopardize public safety.