Two D.C. Council members have introduced a bill to allow drivers' licenses to be issued to residents who cannot provide a Social Security number, which could make it easier for undocumented immigrants to get around the city.
The bill, sponsored by Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), could reopen the debate over illegal immigration in a city long known for its lenient policies on the issue. But the bill, which failed to draw any co-sponsors, could face an uphill struggle to win approval in the 13-member body.
Currently, according to Mendelson, the Department of Motor Vehicles requires an applicant for a drivers license to supply a Social Security number. Under his legislation, Mendelson said the DMV could still ask for it, but would not be allowed to deny an application for a license if someone fails to provide one.
Mendelson said the legislation was spurred by one of his constituents, who he says is a legal resident who does not have or want a Social Security number.
"I have a guy who comes into my office who doesn't want a Social Security number for whatever reason," Mendelson said. "There are a number of people who don't have Social Security numbers."
But when pressed by a reporter, Mendelson and Graham concede the bill could also force the District into the national debate over illegal immigration. They argue their proposal would bring out of the shadows undocumented immigrants who are already driving on District streets.
"Immigration laws should be enforced by the federal government," Mendelson said. "If in fact someone is here illegally and the federal government hasn't figured that out, I don't want them driving without a drivers license."
Graham, who represents several neighborhoods with high concentrations of Hispanic residents, said the legislation would "facilitate" the granting of drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
"Very often, they are driving without drivers licenses," Graham said. "There are downsides that very much could occur if someone is driving without a license."
The bill was referred to the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), appeared skeptical of the legislation. "I'd have to learn a lot more," she said.
Even if the bill is approved and signed into law by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), it would likely become an issue for the new Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, which would have an opportunity to try to block it from taking effect.