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Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Become Virginia Gubernatorial Campaign Issue

California Highway Patrol officers talk with immigrants attending an information session at the Mexican Consulate regarding obtaining a California driver's license in San Diego on April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)

If there was any doubt about how seriously Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Ed Gillespie takes the debate over the idea of issuing a Virginia driver’s license to anyone but legal residents of the Commonwealth, he settled it with a Friday tweet.

“Add your name if you agree that illegal immigrants should not get legal identification from our state government,” he tweeted, along with a link to the homepage of edforvirginia.volunteers.com.

That tweet wasn’t the first time Gillespie has spoken out on the issue.

“And unlike both Democrats running for governor, I won’t try to repeal our commonsense voter I.D. law protecting legal voters, while trying to pass a new law to issue state driver’s licenses to people who are here illegally,” Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said when he launched his campaign Jan. 14.

Gillespie was referring to a proposal endorsed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to repeal the state’s voter photo ID law.

Corey Stewart, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors chairman who is running against Gillespie in the GOP gubernatorial primary, told Lifezette the only reason Democrats are pushing the proposal is because they are hoping illegal immigrants will become Democratic voters.

Northam, who is leading the race of three on the Democratic governor’s primary ballot, gave his opinion on Gillespie’s stand.

“We need to make sure that we have immigration reform for this country,” Northam said in response to a reporter’s question. “We need to make sure that we have a pathway to citizenship in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and we need to make sure that people have access to driver’s licenses.”

This is not just a campaign issue. It is also a legislative debate that was halted by Republicans who trashed the idea at the Senate Transportation Committee in January.

But supporters of giving a driver’s license to everyone regardless of citizenship promise to be back.

“This is a need in our community, and we are going to be fighting until we get driver’s licenses,” Edgar Aranda, chairman of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, told the Alexandria Gazette Packet. “This is a long journey, not a short journey.”

If this proposal is approved by the Virginia Legislature, the Commonwealth would become the 13th state in America to allow illegal immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.

There’s no doubt of the demand.

More than 800,000 undocumented immigrants are now documented thanks to a 2-year-old law that allowed them to have driver’s licenses in California.

“It’s a completely different feeling because you no longer have to worry about seeing a police car,” a 46-year-old who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ramon, told the Mercury News. “You’re much more at peace when you drive. You can drive long distances with your family — to Disneyland or to the Monterey Bay Aquarium — with confidence. You don’t live in fear.”

In Colorado, the demand is so strong that crooks are actually selling phony appointment times with the Division of Motor Vehicles to apply for a license to drive.

“Our office received information from the DMV that a number of people were hoarding appointment times and then selling those appointments at prices that range from $50 to as high as $1,000,” said Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman.

Proponents say issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants should be seen as a safety issue if only because they can then get auto insurance and be required to take a state driver’s test.

Virginia advocates of the proposal also say that unlicensed illegal immigrants who are, let’s say, driving with a bad taillight are just a step away from an ICE deportation.

“This is a matter of life and death,” said Beatriz American, vice-chairwoman of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, during a press conference in January. “We have had cases of people pleading for driver’s licenses because somebody in their family is sick with cancer but they cannot take them to treatment.”

Opponents counter that there is something wrong with giving an illegal resident a legal form of identification.

“The state should not be complicit in helping people who are here illegally and breaking U.S. law,” Corey Stewart told the Senate Transportation Committee before the January vote that scuttled the proposal.

Stewart said that unlike Lt. Gov. Northam, who called for a “pathway to citizenship,” he sees giving driver’s licenses to illegal residents as a gateway to voter fraud.

“The Democrats, particularly in Virginia, are responsible for a lot of voter fraud and they want illegal aliens to vote,” Stewart asserted. “It’s the only way they could possibly win.”