Immigrant Drivers Cards – What’s the Real Deal?

By Megan Schaefer and Perla Martinez

The Real ID Act was passed in Congress in 2005 and took effect in Wisconsin in 2007. This makes it mandatory for states to turn driver’s licenses into federal identification cards, and social security numbers on driver’s licenses are required. As a result of this, individuals without documentation are not able to acquire a license to legally drive. Those who had previously been able to drive no longer have a valid license to do so. Other countries do not use Driver’s Licenses as a form of identification, therefore, immigrants in other countries do not have these issues.

Once the federal government adapted driver’s licenses as a formal identification, it meant many individuals could no longer drive legally. This makes it harder for families to get to work, to take their kids to school, to buy groceries, and to live in general. Imagine always having the fear of being pulled over because you have to break the law to get you and your family around. It’s not because you are a bad driver, but because you do not have a social security number. And not only might you get a ticket, you can be deported for having even a minor traffic violation on your record. By receiving a ticket, your name is now in the system and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can view that information. Now you run the risk of ICE coming to your door  because you needed to take your kids to school, you needed to go to work, or you needed to buy groceries.

The Real ID Act  has presented a public safety issue as these individuals do not have access to auto insurance or driving tests. The Real ID Act, however, allows states to form alternative driver’s licenses to provide a way to drive legally, to access driver’s education, and to obtain auto insurance. This would decrease legal infractions and would provide benefits to the economy, allowing workers to travel to job sites. 

Although fourteen other states have adopted alternative licenses, Wisconsin has not – even though undocumented immigrants were able to obtain driver’s cards in Wisconsin up until the year 2004. Though groups such as the Dairy Business Association support this bill, and JONAH’s Immigration Task Force has presented many arguments for legislators to consider, the bill did not get a committee hearing or vote, so was never introduced this past legislative period.

JONAH’s Immigration Task Force will keep working on this issue.
For more information: Immigration | WI (