PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island lawmakers reviewed legislation Tuesday that would allow immigrants to obtain driver's licenses regardless of their legal status — but the controversial idea has already run into opposition from law enforcement, anti-illegal immigration groups and the ACLU.
Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence, told lawmakers evaluating his bill that since many illegal immigrants are already driving without licenses, it makes sense to subject them to licensing rules like other drivers. He said it would help law enforcement and possibly increase highway safety.
"A lot of these people are hardworking, dedicated individuals," Ciccone said. "This would tighten up the identification rules of people that need to be identified."
But the bill faces opposition from the Rhode Island State Police, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, anti-illegal immigration advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union — and even Ciccone said it may need to be refashioned before it's ready for a vote.
Ciccone's proposal would direct the state's Division of Motor Vehicles to provide special licenses to immigrants at a cost of $100. The applicant would have to submit proof of Rhode Island residency and insurance to acquire a license, which would expire in two years.
Applicants would also have to submit their fingerprints and consent to a criminal background check.
Opponents argue that giving licenses to illegal immigrants would reward law-breaking and prompt more people to move to Rhode Island without following proper immigration rules, according to Terry Gorham, leader of the Rhode Islanders For Immigration Law Enforcement.
"We don't think benefits should be given to illegal immigrants, period," he told The Associated Press. "You can get a job here as an illegal immigrant. Health care, education, and now we're going to give you a license?"
He wasn't the only one to testify against the bill. A spokesman for the state police told lawmakers that background and fingerprint checks won't turn up much information on illegal immigrants, and that the new licenses could run afoul of federal rules on government identification. And Joee Lindbeck, Kilmartin's legislative director, cautioned that the way the bill is written, immigrants could obtain a license without showing they know how to drive. Lindbeck also said that the bill could lead to cases of identity theft if individuals use someone else's name to acquire a license.
Finally, the ACLU opposes the bill because it would also require many legal immigrants — who have legal status in the United States but are not citizens — to obtain the same kind of license as those in the country illegally. Right now, many of those individuals are eligible for standard licenses.
At least a dozen states are considering other proposals to allow illegal immigrants to obtain licenses. New Mexico, Utah, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon and Washington currently allow driver's licenses for those illegally in the country.
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