Hawaii law requires proof that drivers are legal
HONOLULU — A new Hawaii law requires anyone seeking a driver's license to prove they're in the state legally, leaving only three Western states where illegal immigrants can get a driver's license.
Hawaii will check birth certificates and federal databases to verify applicants' status after the law goes into effect July 1. Gov. Linda Lingle signed the legislation April 20.
New Mexico, Utah and Washington are the remaining states that don't ban illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses, a requirement of a national identification law. It mandates that licenses include security enhancements and be issued to people who can show they're legally in the United States.
"It's a verification that we do not have illegal aliens driving," said Dennis Kamimura, licensing administrator for Honolulu's driver's licensing office.
Hawaii doesn't have a significant number of illegal immigrants, and it's unlikely that many of them have obtained driver's licenses previously, Kamimura said.
The primary intent of the new law is to align Hawaii with the federal REAL ID Act, which requires states to make driver's licenses more secure before they can be used as valid forms of identification at places like airports. The REAL ID law is scheduled to go into effect May 10, 2011.
"It's about compliance, not necessarily a real problem we have or don't have," said Rep. Blake Oshiro, D-Aiea-Halawa, the bill's sponsor.
The remaining three states lack a law similar to Hawaii's partly out of concerns that it would be politically unpopular or that illegal immigrants wouldn't be able to get auto insurance.
New Mexico law allows driver's licenses to be issued without proof that applicants are in the country legally.
Utah has a two-tiered system that grants illegal immigrants permission to drive with cards that can't be used as ID.
Washington requires proof of citizenship only for its enhanced driver's license, which can be used as an alternative to a passport when traveling in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
Many states have resisted REAL ID because the federal government hasn't provided much money for its implementation, and its security requirements are difficult to fulfill. Legislation for new national requirements pending in Congress wouldn't cost states as much money while aiming to better protect privacy rights.
States are waiting to see what Congress does before taking action, said Melissa Savage, who tracks REAL ID response for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"A lot of states have been struggling financially, so the REAL ID stuff is taking a back seat," she said.