Gov. Evers gets support for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants
Governor Tony Evers laid out a number of proposals in his Biennial Budget Address that are not directly related to money. One of those proposals would make illegal immigrants eligible for driver's licenses and state IDs.
The governor believes granting illegal immigrants the ability to get an ID will lead to safer roads and a stronger economy in the state.
An estimated 15,000 undocumented immigrants live in Brown County alone.
"I think having driver's licenses for people who are here illegally will make Green Bay and all of Wisconsin safer for all of us," said Chief Andrew Smith with the Green Bay Police Department.
The issue has been a conversation among law enforcement officers across the state for more than a decade.
"Right now, you have individuals out there that aren't trained. They come to our area -- and how they get there, not an issue that we're part of; they're here," said Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski. "They're here raising families. Our children are going to school together. We shop at the same stores together. They're here. They're not trained as far as driving. They have no way of getting insurance."
A driver's license enables American citizens to buy guns, travel internationally and voice their opinions at the polls. The state ID card being debated would only give illegal immigrants the ability to drive legally without any of the extra privileges.
"I think it's important that we take all of the emotion of immigration out of this and look at it from a practical standpoint," said Chief Smith.
Illegal immigrants would be responsible for paying for the driver's license and required to go through all of the training and testing outlined by law.
Smith says issuing driver's licenses to those here illegally would help alleviate the fear of law enforcement that many of them have. He adds that it also would help officers hold those who do commit crimes accountable.
"If we have 15,000 people living in the shadows here in Wisconsin in our own county. It's pretty tough to figure out who did it if we don't have an ID, when we don't have a photo ID, we don't have an address, a fingerprint or anything to start from," he said. "It really is helpful for our detectives if someone has some kind of government-issued ID, so we know at least where to start if we're looking for someone."
The REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005 required states to look at immigration status before issuing driver's licenses or state IDs. Prior to that legislation, Wisconsin, like many other states, did not take immigration into account.
"Many times I meet people here, older people in our community that have lived here for decades, that used to have a driver's license, had a clean driving record, but couldn't get that license renewed because they had the rules changed on them," said Smith.
Twelve states across the country give illegal immigrants the ability to get a driver's license.
Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) says the proposal needs to be separated from the budget and considered on its own merits. The Assembly majority leader is not sure if there has ever been legislation on this issue brought before state lawmakers, but he doubts it would have enough support if it were to be brought forward.