Virginia lawmakers vote to grant driver privilege cards to undocumented immigrants

Advocates supporting legislation to extend driving privileges to undocumented immigrants rallied outside the Virginia Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia lawmakers voted Saturday to grant driver privilege cards – but not full-fledged licenses – to undocumented immigrants.

“I cannot tell you all how important this is for about 300,000 people living in Virginia,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Alexandria. “This bill is going to change people’s lives.”

Currently undocumented immigrants are not able to get licenses, leading many to simply drive without one. Lawmakers framed the proposal as a way to allow immigrants living here to take care of their basic needs while also improving public safety by ensuring everyone on the road has passed a driving test and is insured.

The General Assembly had been debating two proposals. One, proposed by Surovell to issue privilege cards, and one proposed by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, which would have allowed immigrants to get full-fledged licenses.

Surovell said he favored the broader approach proposed by Tran and approved earlier this legislative session by the House, but said that their wasn’t enough support for the measure in the Senate.

The main difference between driver privilege cards and a license is that the privilege cards must be renewed annually and applicants must file a tax return or be listed as a dependent on one.

The privilege cards will also state that they are not to be used for voting or federal benefits.

The language lawmakers adopted is drafted to block federal officials from obtaining a list of applicants to address concerns that the information could be used to target undocumented immigrants for immigration enforcement purposes.

Advocates supporting the legislation packed the House and Senate galleries for the votes.

“The ability to drive and live your daily life and be able to go work, take your kids to school … without additional stress, worry and fear will be tremendously life changing,” Tran said.