issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented Rhode Islanders would mean safer roads,
study finds

Legal/policy analysis by RWU School of Law and Latino Policy Institute also finds
poverty rates fall faster in states providing undocumented immigrants with licenses

PROVIDENCE, R.I., January 5, 2017 – Issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented
immigrants in Rhode Island would lead to safer roads and potentially better economic
opportunities, according to a legal and policy analysis that the Roger Williams
University School of Law and the Latino Policy Institute at RWU released on
Thursday.

The analysis found that Rhode Island has the largest percentage of uninsured
motorists in New England, and the state contains an estimated 30,000 undocumented
immigrants.

In all, 14 jurisdictions – including 12 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. –
provide standard or alternate driver’s licenses to their undocumented populations.
The study found that states providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants
don’t see a massive influx of immigrants, but they do have fewer traffic fatality
rates on average and lower average costs for auto insurance. Also, poverty rates
tend to decline at a faster rate in states that provide driver’s licenses for
undocumented immigrants, the study found.

The study cites an AAA Foundation report that unlicensed drivers were 19 percent
more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. “The completion of driver’s
education and passing of a driving test would ensure that all drivers on the roads
are aware of the driving rules and laws of the road, thereby making it safer for all
to drive,” the report states.

The study analyzes how other states have handled driver’s licenses for undocumented
immigrants, saying, “States with a lenient approach invite fraud and free-riding by
residents of other states. States with a strict approach discourage bona fide
applicants, and thus jeopardize the public safety and economic benefits of granting
driver’s privileges to undocumented individuals.” Legislation proposed in the past
in Rhode Island falls into the “moderate” category that strikes the right balance,
the report says.

Governor Gina M. Raimondo said, “This comprehensive analysis by researchers at Roger
Williams University confirms that issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented Rhode
Islanders can improve public safety for everyone. I remain committed to addressing
this important public safety issue and hope to work with the General Assembly to
provide a path for undocumented Rhode Islanders to obtain drivers’ licenses.”

Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, a former RWU School of Law professor who
co-founded the Latino Policy Institute, said, “I am proud to see LPI continue
meaningful and thought-provoking research on Latinos in Rhode Island. I am
especially appreciative of their research on the benefits of issuing driver’s
licenses to all of our residents, regardless of immigration status. I support
driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants because it is a matter of equity, and
it is also a matter of safety. By properly educating and insuring all of our
drivers, we create safer roads for everyone.”

RWU President Donald J. Farish said, “As a university with the state’s only law
school, and in conjunction with our Latino Policy Institute, Roger Williams
University was pleased to prepare an analysis of the impact of issuing driver’s
licenses to undocumented immigrants for consideration by the Governor and the
General Assembly. Helping lawmakers craft sound policy based on research is
something that we at RWU accept as our responsibility, especially because we see
ourselves as a private university that serves a public purpose.”

Anna Cano Morales, director of the Latino Policy Institute at RWU, said, “Given the
uncertainty of a new federal administration and what may be their policy priorities,
it is imperative for Rhode Island to consider making policy change based on evidence
and best practices. This report was our contribution to the ongoing conversation on
this issue.”

Michael J. Yelnosky, dean of the RWU School of Law, said, “This report is a great
example of our educational philosophy in action. This is engaged teaching and
learning in service of society. Moreover, it is the kind of valuable collaboration
that is facilitated by the presence of our immigration clinic and the Latino Policy
Institute at our facility at One Empire Street. And perhaps most importantly, the
study is a fine piece of analysis that should inform discussions about this
important public policy issue.”

A panel will detail and discuss the report at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, at the RWU
Providence campus, 1 Empire St., in the fourth floor Providence Community Room.
Central Falls police chief James J. Mendonca, Providence director of economic
opportunity Brian Hull, and the executive director of the ACLU’s Rhode Island
affiliate, Steven Brown, are scheduled to speak, along with RWU law Professor
Deborah Gonzalez and Latino Policy Institute researcher J. Alejandro Tirado-Alcaraz.
A question and answer session will follow.

The full report is available online at http://bit.ly/2hTiW3K

About RWU: With campuses on the coast of Bristol and in the heart of Providence,
R.I., Roger Williams University is a forward-thinking private university committed
to strengthening society through engaged teaching and learning. At RWU, small
classes, direct access to faculty and guaranteed opportunity for real-world projects
ensure that its nearly 4,000 undergraduates – along with hundreds of law students,
graduate students and adult learners – graduate with the ability to think critically
along with the practical skills that today’s employers demand. Roger Williams is
leading the way in American higher education, confronting the most pressing issues
facing students and families – increasing costs, rising debt and job readiness.