Repeal of Legal Status Requirement for Driver’s Licenses

Repeal of Legal Status Requirement for Driver’s Licenses

Much of this information is adapted from the National Immigration Law Center.

For more information, check out all their resources on this issue:


  • Maine did not have a legal status requirement for driver’s licenses until 2008.  At the time, President Bush’s Department of Homeland Security had been pushing states to have more stringent requirements for their driver’s licenses.  Maine could have satisfied their requirements simply by adding a residency requirement for the license.  Unfortunately, the Baldacci administration, bowing to President Bush’s scare tactics, pushed through a legal status requirement (LD 2309 from the 123rd Legislature).  In a year with painful budget cuts, it cost the state $1.5 million to implement.  Bureau of Motor Vehicles employees—not trained in immigration law—have been forced to deal with the 70+ classes of termporary visas and immigration statuses.
  • Undocumented immigrants remain as vital to Maine’s social and economic fabric as ever--they just have to drive to work without a license or insurance.  Undocumented immigrants still provide vital contributions to the fundamental drivers of Maine’s economy: fishing, forestry, and agriculture.  From raking blueberries to picking apples to milking cows, Maine’s economy simply would not function without their hard work.  Our broken immigration system shouldn’t prevent them from driving legally to their job.
  • Eleven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico allow undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses.  They include: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, and Vermont.
  • Denying licenses endangers public safety.
    • Unlicensed (and therefore uninsured) drivers are far more likely to be involved in fatal accidents and flee the scene of a crime.[1]  Studies also show that the more uninsured motorists there are on the road, the more fatal car crashes occur.[2]
    • Ensuring all drivers have access to a license (and therefore insurance) will drive down everyone’s car insurance premiums.  California, for instance, found that just 30% of their unlicensed drivers getting insurance would result in $250 million in savings due to reduction in car accidents.[3]


Maine example: the story of Selvin Arevalo.

  • You can watch Selvin and his friend Isai Galvez share their story online here:
  • Selvin moved to Maine from Guatemala when he was fourteen without papers, in order to be with his siblings, escape the turmoil and poverty his country, and earn enough to help pay for his mother’s heart condition back home.  In 2010, now in his mid-twenties, balancing GED classes and a job, unable to obtain a driver’s license legally, he was involved in a fender bender.  Afraid of being deported, he fled the scene.  Unfortunately, an undercover policeman saw it and pulled him over.  He spent seven months in detention while his friends and family organized to get him released.  Out on bail, his application for asylum was denied.  Thankfully, he qualified for President Obama’s program that allows young, undocumented immigrants like Selvin to avoid deportation. 
  • While federal, comprehensive immigration reform is the only long-term solution here, state policies like those allowing undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses go a long way towards making Maine a place that works for all of us.



[1] See Unlicensed to Kill (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Nov. 2011),

[2] See J. Tim Query and Risa Kumazawa, Examining the Impact of Issuing Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants (National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 2011)

[3] See A Social, Public Safety, and Security Argument for Licensing Undocumented Drivers, supra note 5.