Fox News falsely claimed that California's new program to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants amounted to “back door to citizenship” that would increase identity theft. But the program requires a stringent background check and shares the support of law enforcement and public officials who point to studies that show the program will lead to increased safety and transparency for citizens.
California Extends Driver's License Program To Undocumented Residents
AP: Newly Implemented California Law Allows Undocumented Immigrants To Apply For A Driver's License. On January 2, 2015, California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) began accepting driver's license applications from undocumented residents in accordance with a new law that permits undocumented Californians to receive state-issued driver's licenses. According to the Associated Press, California expects 1.4 million adults to apply for a license over the next three years. [Associated Press, 1/2/15]
MYTH: Driver's Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants Is “A Back Door To Citizenship And Amnesty”
Fox Host: Driver's Licenses Could “Open the Floodgates” Of Immigration To California. On the January 2 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, guest co-host Leland Vittert questioned whether California's new policy could “open the floodgates” of undocumented Central American immigrants and slammed the law as a potential “back door to citizenship and amnesty.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 1/2/15]
FACT: Driver's Licenses Do Not Confer Citizenship
LA Times: New State-Issued Licenses Do Not Grant Citizenship And Are Not Accepted As Official Federal Identification. While recipients of the new state-issued licenses will be permitted to legally drive vehicles in California, the LA Times underscored their limited scope, “The special licenses will feature text explaining that they are 'not acceptable for official federal purposes,' such as boarding an airplane.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/31/14]
MYTH: Driver's Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants Will Result In A Jump In Crimes Like Identify Theft
Fox Host: New Law Makes California “Less Safe” Because It Allows “Criminals To Reinvent Themselves.” Vittert argued that the new law “inherently makes California less safe” because criminals could lie to DMV officials to receive new licenses:
VITTERT: Obviously, the proponents say it makes the roads safer, but consider this - and that is, I'm reading now from the Associated Press - “Applicants much submit proof of identity and state residency. Those who don't possess foreign government issued identifications on the list of approved documents” - I guess all of us have to submit our passport and those kinds of things, these are approved documents - “can be interviewed by a DMV investigator to see if they qualify.” So, essentially you're going to have folks at the DMV saying, “Okay, is your name really X? Yes, my name's X. Okay, here's your driver's license.” Doesn't that all of a sudden create the ability for criminals to reinvent themselves, all sorts of identity fraud issues - these kinds of things that inherently makes California less safe? [Fox News, America's Newsroom, Fox News, 1/2/15]
FACT: California Driver's License Application Requires Stringent Background Check Including Fingerprinting
AP: Law Enforcement And DMV Data Will Be Synced. AP reports that law enforcement and DMV systems will work together to detect criminals applying for licenses in California:
Advocates have encouraged immigrants to seek the license. But they are warning those with deportation orders or criminal records to first seek legal advice since law enforcement can access DMV data.
Applicants must submit proof of identity and state residency and pass written and road tests. Those who don't possess foreign government-issued identification on a list of approved documents can be interviewed by a DMV investigator to see if they qualify.
Immigrants who pass the initial hurdles will get a driving permit. But they must return for a driving test before they can get the new licenses, which will be marked with the words “federal limits apply.” [Associated Press, 1/2/15]
LA Times Details DMV's Stringent Safety Measures To Prove Identity. On January 2, Los Angeles Times highlighted the screening procedures for undocumented applicants in the DMV program:
License applicants will have to provide documents to verify their identities and prove they reside in California. They will each also have to submit a thumbprint, pass vision and written exams and schedule a behind-the-wheel driving test. [Los Angeles Times, 1/2/15]
Myth: New Law Means California Police Officers Are Unfairly Told To Overlook Illegal Activity
Fox Host Warns That Police Will Face A Legal Conflict Of Interest With New Licenses. The America's Newsroom segment ended with co-host Vittert voicing concern that police will be placed in a legally troublesome situation when they stop an undocumented driver with a special license:
WARREN: What is California law enforcement supposed to do if they pull someone over who happens to have one of these with a little mark on their driver's license that says they're an illegal immigrant? I mean, are they supposed to call it in?
VITTERT: You all of a sudden have this dichotomy that you have police officers looking at driver's licenses inherently knowing that the person who has the driver's license is breaking the law. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 1/2/15]
FACT: California Police Support Licenses For Undocumented Drivers
NY Times: California Police Chiefs Backed DMV Move. According to the New York Times, California's Police Chiefs Association rallied behind the move to extend driver's licenses, pointing to improved safety for Californians.
The law was supported by the California Police Chiefs Association, which anticipates that it will cut down on hit-and-run accidents. Unauthorized immigrants “live in our communities, going to church and taking their kids to school,” said Jim Leal, the police chief of Newark, Calif., and chairman of the association's traffic safety committee. “We all know they're out there driving.” [New York Times, 12/19/14]
AP: "Law Enforcement Officials Say The Program Will Improve Road Safety." According the Associated Press, California police cite “A DMV study of 23 years of crash data found that unlicensed drivers were more likely to cause a fatal collision than licensed drivers” to argue that the new law will increase traffic safety because it requires all drivers to now be tested and insured:
Law enforcement officials say the program will improve road safety because licensed drivers must be tested and insured. A DMV study of 23 years of crash data found that unlicensed drivers were more likely to cause a fatal collision than licensed drivers.
State insurance officials hope the change will increase the number of drivers holding auto insurance, though some immigrants say they have always held insurance even though they could not get a license. [Associated Press, 1/2/15]