Immigrants could get RI driver's license regardless of status

Lawmakers in Rhode Island are considering a proposal to allow immigrants to obtain driver's licenses regardless of their legal status.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the legislation Tuesday.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Frank Ciccone, a Providence Democrat.

"We know some of them are driving. They probably are not driving in accordance with all the laws. We feel this is a way to protect the citizen that's out on the road that has insurance, has a valid driver's license and has a registration," Ciccone told NBC 10 News.

Ciccone's proposal would direct the state's Division of Motor Vehicles to provide special licenses to immigrants at a cost of $100. The applicant would have to submit proof of Rhode Island residency to acquire a license, which would expire in two years.

Applicants would also have to submit their fingerprints and consent to a criminal background check.

Supporters said immigrants in the country illegally are already driving and should be subject to the same licensing rules as other drivers. Opponents, however, argue that the licenses would reward illegal behavior.

"They're here illegally, against the law. If somebody comes out and says they're an illegal alien, what's supposed to happen is (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is supposed to be notified -- and ICE doesn't do their job either -- they're supposed to come here and pick them up and put them in a deportation procedure," said Terry Gorman of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement.

Because that's not happening, immigration lawyer David Borts said registration is a good thing.

"We need to regulate our society. We need to know who's on the roads. We need to be able arrest the people that break the laws, and we need to identify who's living in our state," Borts said.

Providence police said a 6-year-old boy was struck and killed Sunday by a driver whose license was suspended. Immigration officials said Andres Morales was in the country illegally.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, said the law would not support that practice.

"I don't think there's a connection between someone not having a license and a very, very tragic accident. In fact, you might argue the opposite -- that having the training and having their cars checked, it may be that it wouldn't have happened," Chafee said.

There is no corresponding bill in the state House of Representatives.