Some Unlicensed Drivers Risk More Than a Fine

Julia Preston and Robert Gebeloff, New York Times, Dec. 10, 2010

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Many states have adopted tough new laws to prevent illegal immigrants from driving, while expanding immigration enforcement by the state and local police. As a result, at least 30,000 illegal immigrants who were stopped for common traffic violations in the last three years have ended up in deportation, Department of Homeland Security figures show. The numbers are rapidly increasing, aggravating tensions in the national debate over immigration.

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In Georgia, voters have been worried about unlicensed illegal immigrants whose driving skills are untested and who often lack insurance, including some who caused well-publicized accidents. Lawmakers have tightened requirements to keep illegal immigrants from obtaining licenses and license plates, and have increased penalties for driving without them.

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“We have to work to support our kids, so we have to drive,” [illegal alien Felipa Leonor] Valencia said in Spanish, after she was released on a $7,500 bond in late October from an immigration detention center in Alabama to begin her legal fight against deportation. “If we drive, we get stopped by the police. The first thing they ask is, ‘Can I see your license?’ ‘Don’t have one? Go to jail.’ And from jail to deportation.”

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