The PJ Tatler

Who's Behind the Push to Give Illegal Aliens Driver's Licenses…in Texas?

Earlier this week, the left-leaning Austin American-Statesman editorialized that it’s time that Texas establish driver’s licences for illegal aliens.

In the editorial, the paper calls for Texas to join the 11 states plus the District of Columbia in granting driver’s licenses to those who are in the state illegally. This issue cost California Gov. Gray Davis his job a few years back, in that Democratic state. It’s fair to say that it would be a very controversial move in Texas as the Republican-controlled legislature gets set for its 2015 session, and presumed Gov. Greg Abbott (R) presides over his first session. Presumed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) would also be presiding over his first session, in the Texas Senate.

The Statesman avoids the politics and pitches a case for road safety.

While not everyone who drives without insurance is living in the U.S. illegally, allowing undocumented immigrants the option to drive legally would make Texas roads that much safer.

A bipartisan bill recognized that in 2013. HD 3206 would have allowed undocumented immigrants to drive legally in Texas and addressed concerns about voting, security and other rights reserved for legal residents.

Under that measure, undocumented immigrants living in Texas would have been issued a special “Texas resident driver’s permit” that looked different from a regular driver’s license. The permits wouldn’t have been used for any federal purposes, such as going through airport security. It would have allowed undocumented drivers, who are already on Texas roads, to drive legally and get quality auto insurance, a huge problem when you consider that currently more than 2.5 million, or 14.3 percent, of vehicles in Texas lack coverage. In Travis County, 120,125 vehicles (more than 13 percent) are not insured.

Not all of those uninsured cars belong to illegal aliens, of course, in Travis County or statewide.

HD 3206 did not fare well in the last legislative session. It got out of committee but died on the calendar. But its backers intend on bringing it forward again next year, even though the state legislature is likely to be even more Republican than the 2013 edition.

There is much to unpack in what the bill proposes, and the Statesman endorses.

The mere fact that the driver’s license for illegal aliens would look different from other state driver’s licenses and would not be used “for any federal purpose” means that the state will end up creating a database of all illegal alien drivers in the state, or at least of those who apply for this particular license. The federal government might become interested in that data, if it ever gets around to securing the border. Would the state of Texas refuse to provide that information to the federal government, if it is ever asked to?

It also means that any illegal alien holding such a license would still have a reason to flee the scene of an accident in many non-sanctuary jurisdictions. Police will recognize the license and might arrest the holder to process for deportation. The fact that it could not be used for “any federal purpose” is meant to assure Texans that they will not be used in voter registration. It also means that the license cannot be used as a form of ID for entering federal buildings, boarding aircraft or writing checks.

Illegal aliens will know all of this. They will also know that in order to obtain the special license, they will have to take a driver’s ed class. They will have to either fill out a special form identifying themselves as present in the country illegally, or they will have to check a box on a form that everyone fills out, that does the same thing. Along the way of getting this special license, they will have to identify themselves to government officials as breaking immigration law.

Or they could buy a fake license on the black market, as many have done for decades. Or they could take their chances and drive without a license at all, as many have done for decades.

The special new illegal alien license would also, according to the editorial, enable them to purchase car insurance to comply with state law. In that process, they will identify themselves to the insurers as illegal aliens. Insurers will be knowingly selling products to people who are breaking the law and who might pose flight risks. Besides that, illegal aliens can already purchase car insurance, if they choose to.

The Statesman gets into none of these weaknesses in the plan it supports. Neither do any of the plan’s persistent backers.

And at a recent public hearing, supporters of this proposed law made it clear that they were concerned that the state not be required to share any of this license information with the federal government, in order to get people in the country illegally to participate in this special license program.  In others words, they would want Texas officials to not be allowed to share this information with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). More about this hearing below.

A source tells the Tatler that the plan’s backers are shopping a poll around to legislative candidates and incumbents in Austin right now, to persuade them that Texans are in favor of it, and build support going into next year’s session. The poll also suggests that Attorney General, likely Gov. Greg Abbott supports the plan. He doesn’t. More about that later.

The backers of the plan include state Rep. Byron Cook (R) of Corsicana, who backed the bill that failed in 2013, and immigration activist Norman Adams.

The Tatler has our hands on that poll. It was conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, a well-known Texas polling firm, among likely voters, August 26-28 of this year.

Pollsters ask what their customers pay them to ask. At first glance, this poll appears to find strong support among Texas voters for granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens under certain conditions. In fact, the poll seems to show that fully 72% of Texans support the plan.

But the poll’s wording might have goosed the results.

It asks two direct question on the matter, and one indirect.

Question 3 asks, “Would you support or oppose legislation that requires undocumented immigrants to obtain a driving permit?” That question got 45% support.

Question 4 asks, “Would you support or oppose legislation that requires all undocumented immigrants to apply for a driving permit, pay a $150 fee, provide finger print and photo identification, pass a criminal background check, and buy liability insurance?” That question got 72% support, with 57% in strong support.

The word “require” is key, as it turns granting licenses into a mandate. Tacking on more requirements in Question 4 ramps up support. But what is the likelihood that people who have violated immigration law will go through all of those required steps in Question 4 just to end up in a database of illegal aliens — sorry, “undocumented immigrants” as the poll describes them — and having to buy car insurance?

Question 6 is the indirect one regarding the plan to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. It states, “Greg Abbott supports legislation that requires all undocumented immigrants to apply for a driving permit, pay a $150 fee, provide finger print and photo identification, pass a criminal background check, and buy liability insurance.” The intent of Question 6 is to gauge whether Abbott’s “support” helps or hurt his run for governor. According to the poll, Abbott gains a few points by supporting the full set of requirements for illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses.

I reached out to the Abbott campaign and gave them that question, word for word.

The campaign affirmed that it does not reflect Abbott’s position at all. His Democratic rival, state Sen. Wendy Davis, does support granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. But Abbott does not, and his campaign has already made that clear.

That poll with its pushy wording and its incorrect claim regarding Abbott is not the only chicanery involved in pushing the illegal alien driver’s license plan. Rep. Cook held a hearing that included witness testimony on the plan on September 4. In accord with Texas’ heralded transparency, the committee filed a notice of the meeting for the public. That notice never mentions any discussion of the plan to establish driver’s licenses for illegal aliens at all.

The witness list, however, did provide clues that the subject would come up, if you do a little research.

  • Foster, Charles (Self)
  • Harrison, Paul (Self; Alinsco Insurance Company)
  • Harrison, Paul (Self; Alinsci insurance company)
  • Kolly, Faye (Self; AILA, DMCA,llp)
  • Kuntz, Jeremiah (Texas Department of Motor Vehicles)
  • McCraw, Steven (Texas Department of Public Safety)
  • Peters, Joe (Texas Department of Public Safety
  • Worman, Mark (Texas Department of Insurance -resource only)

The first name on the list, Charles Foster, is an immigration lawyer. He supports Obama’s 2012 unilateral “deferred action” on illegal aliens. During the hearing, he confidently declared that the U.S. Senate’s controversial “comprehensive immigration reform” bill will pass and become law eventually.

Faye Kolly represents AILA — American Immigration Lawyers Association — and De Mott, McChesney, Curtwright and Armendariz, LLP — an immigration law firm. None of the witnesses testified against the plan. Granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens will be a boon to immigration lawyers.

You can watch the full hearing here. The section on the plan to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens comes at the 1 hour, 16 minute mark. Witnesses were present and were clearly ready to testify, which is at odds with the vague meeting notice that never mentions the issue at all.

The WPA poll that Adams and Cook are reportedly touting does not line up too well with a Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll that was conducted among Texas registered voters from May 30 to June 8. That poll finds that 50% want stronger border security and 49% oppose granting illegal aliens in-state tuition at state universities (34% support, 17% don’t know). A majority — 54% — believe that undocumented immigrants — the poll’s wording — should be deported immediately. According to the crosstabs, the more conservative a Texan is, the less likely they are to support things like driver’s licenses that will keep illegal aliens in the state. It is conservatives who will be expected to drive the 2015 Texas legislature’s session.

Would a Texas majority favoring immediate deportation also support granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens?

If you pack the poll question with weighted words and falsely attach the plan to Greg Abbott, maybe. Otherwise, probably not.

A bill to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens is sure to be introduced in the 2015 legislative session. The Statesman will support it, and the WPA poll will make the rounds again to try to build support even among Republicans.

It’s a very questionable poll, engineered to tout a plan that a majority of Texans would oppose. Republican legislators who publicly back the plan may win praise from the Austin American-Statesman, but they will be courting disaster with the voters.