Illegal immigrants in state can obtain driver's licenses

Hartford (AP) - The state will issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants who qualify for a federal immigration enforcement program, a Malloy administration official said Monday.

The driver's licenses will provide temporary legal status for young motorists to obtain car registration and insurance, said Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning.

To be eligible for the licenses, immigrants must comply with a directive issued by President Barack Obama in June that eased enforcement of immigration laws.

Under the Obama plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military.

They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.

"These are people who are here legally because of the president's directive," Lawlor said.

The driver's licenses will not be "ID compliant," which means they may not be used to buy airline tickets or other functions requiring photo ID, he said.

About 4,000 or 5,000 motorists in Connecticut are eligible, he said.

A group of activists has been pushing for the change in Connecticut. Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut organized a rally in New Haven on Sunday.

The group says about 54,000 Connecticut residents who must drive to work or take children to school cannot get licenses because they are in the U.S. illegally.

Advocates say allowing immigrants to have driver's licenses would improve safety on the roads because the immigrants' driving skills would be tested. Supporters also say the state would get more revenue from the DMV fees paid by immigrants.

Asked if the Malloy administration acted in response to the lobbying efforts, Lawlor said the state is moving on the driver's license issue because "the new ingredient is the deferred action status."

Representatives of the group did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Washington and New Mexico allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.

Utah grants immigrants a special driving permit that may not be used as identification and Illinois lawmakers may consider a measure to let illegal immigrants have driver's licenses.

New Mexico Gov. Susan Martinez has tried unsuccessfully to win repeal of the law. The Republican governor cited the case of a woman sentenced to 10 years for forging affidavits that authorities say allowed 44 illegal immigrants to get New Mexico driver's licenses.

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