AUSTIN, Texas – State Rep. R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra has signed on as a joint author of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally and with auto insurance in Texas.
Under House Bill 68, authored by state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, the Department of Public Safety could issue driving permits – not licenses – to undocumented immigrants who can prove they have lived in Texas for at least a year and have no criminal records.
The issue is one of the top legislative agenda items this session of La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a colonia community group based in Hidalgo County.
Guerra, D-McAllen, said HB 68 would eliminate the high volume of uninsured drivers on Texas roads, thus increasing public safety across the state. In addition, he said, those eligible for Texas resident driver’s permits would be required to enroll in a driver education program, which is a requirement for all Texas drivers. Guerra said similar legislation has already been implemented in 12 other states, with California being the latest.
“From an economic and public safety standpoint, issuing Texas residential permits to those who qualify makes a lot of sense. These individuals are already here and working, but unfortunately cannot be a part of the system because of their undocumented status. This bill would guarantee valid permits, enhancing the safety of our roads and highways for Texas residents and drivers,” Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“HB 68 would help lower insurance premiums for those of us who are legal residents and required to purchase auto insurance. It would also make our streets safer because we will know they have already demonstrated competence along our highways and roads, in the safe operations of a vehicle, as well as having the necessary liability insurance.”
Rep. Alonzo, D-Dallas, has tried to pass similar legislation in previous sessions. As in other years, he has the support of the Texas Association of Business (TAB).
“We support allowing undocumented residents to obtain a driver’s license based on no-criminal record, the usual requirements,” TAB President Bill Hammond told the Rio Grande Guardian, at a recent rally on south steps of the Capitol. “It makes no sense to have all these people driving around without a driver’s license, which means they have no insurance. You cannot get insurance without a driver’s license. If we want to have more people insured we need to allow them (undocumented immigrants) to have driver’s licenses. It is seen as somehow a favor to the undocumented but it just makes good common sense.”
Alonzo said HB 68 is intended to help almost two million unlicensed, uninsured drivers on Texas road and highways. He said it is estimated that Texas has anywhere between two and three million workers scattered across the state, with many of them driving cars or trucks to get to work to put food on the table for their families.
“It does not make business or economic sense that they cannot legally get their driver’s credentials or even get their vehicles insured because of current laws that prohibit them from doing so. House Bill 68 would address that issue by permitting them to get their driver’s permit and proper vehicle insurance,” Alonzo told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“Refusing to require these hard-working people to have a driver permit makes no more sense than refusing to inoculate their children for communicable diseases. And if involved in an accident, they are more likely to flee the scene and then cost more unnecessary financial burden on the rest of us insured drivers, or insurance companies that have to foot the bill for uninsured drivers.”
A companion bill in the Senate – SB 132 filed by state Sens. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia García, D-Houston – would also create a Texas resident driver’s permit that undocumented residents can obtain.
The senators say that ensuring all drivers are driving legally and insured supports broader public safety goals such as increasing the likelihood that drivers know state traffic rules. Many immigrants, including undocumented persons, are working in Texas and continue to drive to work to provide for their families and other day-to-day activities, the senators point out.
“Currently millions of Texas workers cannot obtain a driver’s permit and insure their vehicles because of their citizenship status. These workers drive vehicles on Texas roads every day. These uninsured and unlicensed drivers present public safety concerns and liability issues for other drivers. S.B. 132 will allow certain Texas residents to obtain a driver’s permit so that they too can be responsible drivers,” Hinojosa said.
“I look forward to working on this common sense legislation that will help immigrant communities access insurance, allow law enforcement to focus more on criminals and less on immigrant workers, and promote community safety,” Rodríguez said.
“This bill is about making our roads safer and saving money in insurance rates for Texas consumers. A Texas resident driver’s permit will ensure all drivers know our traffic laws and have affordable access to car insurance. This will help every driving Texan,” García said.
According to the National Immigration Law Center, eleven states including the District of Columbia have enacted laws to issue driver’s licenses to people who are residents but not citizens of the United States.