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A new study says that allowing undocumented immigrants to drive legally is finally starting to receive widespread attention among the states 10 years after Utah helped to pioneer such efforts.
More states are considering giving such permits, and the Pew Charitable Trusts issued a report Tuesday looking at lessons learned by those that allow such licensing.
Utah permitted special "driving privilege cards" for undocumented immigrants in 2005. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, sponsored the legislation, saying it made sense to help immigrants who were driving anyway to obtain insurance and training in local traffic laws to help protect other motorists. Their information is not shared with immigration officials.
Tennessee had allowed similar driving privileges in 2004, a year before Utah, but then revoked it in 2006 amid reports that federal investigators found that out-of-state applicants used fraudulent documents and bribed state workers.
The report said that, as late as 2011, unauthorized immigrants could legally drive only in Utah, New Mexico and Washington.
In 2013, however, the District of Columbia and eight states added that privilege: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Vermont although Oregon's law was repealed by ballot initiative last year.
This year, Delaware and Hawaii added such permission, but have yet to begin issuing licenses.
Pew noted that with the recent action, 37 percent of the nation's unauthorized immigrants now live where they may obtain permission to drive and other states are considering whether to follow suit. Pew said that Utah is among six states that have created alternative licenses for the undocumented rather than give them the same license available to anyone.
Utah's driving-privilege card is a different color than its regular licenses, must be renewed annually instead of every five years and is marked as "not valid for identification."
Applicants also must be fingerprinted and go through a background check among Western states to check for criminal records. The Utah Legislature this year attempted to require a national background check by the FBI, but the federal agency blocked that.
Pew said many states had trouble estimating how many people might apply for licenses, and how many extra employees might be needed to handle them. It noted Utah managed to implement its law without hiring any extra people, and the number of people who applied was about in the midpoint of its estimates.
The study noted that Utah is among states that decided to accept foreign passports, birth certificates and other foreign documents as proof of identification for applicants and it worked closely with foreign consulates to help inform potential applicants about what would be needed.
Beginning in 2010, Utah started requiring all applicants for full driver licenses to prove their citizenship to comply with the federal Real ID Act. The state found since then that about 6,000 undocumented immigrants illegally had full driver licenses.
Utah issued 35,232 driving-privilege cards in 2014. The numbers have declined from a peak of about 43,000 in 2008, when the recession hit full force and immigration slowed.
Pew estimates that Utah has 100,000 undocumented immigrants.