Gov. Gina Raimondo promised on the campaign trail that she would support giving driver’s licenses to undocumented workers. She also promised that if legislation enacting this policy did not pass, she would issue an executive order to do so. But as of Oct. 13, no official plan has been put out by Raimondo’s office.
Raimondo reaffirmed her commitment to the initiative in an interview with NBC 10 News Sept. 17, saying that she considers the issue a matter of public safety.
But there is controversy over whether the issue should be settled via legislative or executive action. Speaker of the House Nicholas Matiello, D-Cranston, expressed his concern through interviews with multiple news outlets.
“I have not seen a proposal the Governor may have regarding driver’s licenses. However, I strongly believe this is a legislative matter and should not be done through an executive order,” Matiello told GoLocalProv.
“There should be a clear legislative channel for the state to discuss” the issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, said Justin Katz, a writer for the Ocean State Current. The government should follow a predictable path so that Rhode Islanders are able to keep track of and control it, Katz said. Right now, there is no state law that “prevents the interpretation that driver’s licenses can go to non-citizens,” Katz said.
Even though it would not be illegal for Raimondo to issue an executive order, Katz does not think she will take this route because there is not enough support for the issue.
Issuing driver’s licenses would make the state more attractive to undocumented workers, Katz said, additionally citing a study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform that found undocumented immigrants cost the state $278 million every year, as of 2009.
But Vermont issues driver’s licenses to undocumented workers, and undocumented workers are not flocking to that state, said Heiny Maldonado, executive director of Fuerza Laboral, an organization that fights for worker’s rights. Data shows that undocumented workers do not move to states that issue driver’s licenses to them at disproportionate rates, Maldonado, who speaks Spanish, said through a translator. Undocumented workers also pay into Social Security but do not receive any benefits, Maldonado said.
Other political figures are flocking to support Raimondo’s plan, including Mayor Jorge Elorza and James Diossa, mayor of Central Falls. Elorza expressed his support for Raimondo’s plan in a publicly released letter.
“I was pleased to hear that your administration is considering making driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants in Rhode Island. I write to you today to offer my full support on this issue,” Elorza wrote. Elorza agreed with Raimondo that the issue is one of public safety. He also wrote that the “additional fee income” from the licenses would outweigh the costs associated with them, and that allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses would allow them to more fully engage with the community.
Correction: A previous version of the graphic accompanying this article misidentified Arizona as New Mexico. The Herald regrets the error.