Local Citizenship, No Matter Your Immigration Status

by Peter Spiro

Here’s a smart idea out of New Haven: issuing ID cards to city residents regardless of immigration status. According to this report, some 10-12,000 undocumented aliens living in New Haven are eligible for the card, which will allow immigrants to fill prescriptions and access local banks, libraries, and public services. “Most importantly, it will designate them as full-fledged participants in civil society.”

The program is being watched closely by other cities, including New York. It shows that while some localities are unfriendly to undocumented immigrants, others are welcoming. There’s no necessary race to the bottom in immigration federalism.

Indeed, the idea might be extended to extending formal state citizenship to those who lack national citizenship. There’s constitutional authority for the concept: in no less than Dred Scott, in which Justice Taney found that “[i]t does not by any means follow, because he has all the rights and privileges of a citizen of a State, that he must be a citizen of the United States.” The 14th Amendment, which overturned Scott‘s retrograde holding, wouldn’t seem to present an obstacle. A citizen of New York and not of the United States? Sounds odd, but there’s no conceptual or practical reason it couldn’t be so.


5 Responses

  1. If I take your car, do I become the “undocumented owner”?

  2. I can see that causing Constitutional problems: What if the recipient of “single-state” citizenship (or even a local ID card) tries to leverage the benefits to other states under the Full Faith and Credit Clause — in particular, states that enforce rather than flaunt Federal law?

  3. A novel idea suggested by a municipal court judge in Georgia (not on the record, naturally): why not allow non-citizens to obtain a driver’s license? Practically, it makes sense.

    Penalties for driving with no license are not as stiff as penalties for driving with a suspended license (1st suspended license in 5 years in Georgia = minimum 2 days in jail that can’t be suspended or probated; 2nd in 5 gets you 10 days — note: significantly more time in jail than the minimums for DUIs). No jail time required for driving with no license — and no way to keep track of how many you pile up, particularly if you give a false name. If you drive with no license, you have no insurance coverage, creating higher premiums for other drivers on the road.

    And for those who balk at the idea of state citizenship for those without U.S. citizenship: Why is the privilege of being a licensed driver something that should only be granted to a State citizen? Forget public library access! Non-citizens are here, and they’re driving. More evidence, especially on the state level, of legislators’ politics (forcing them to pretend a problem doesn’t exist) barring practical resolutions.

    Instead, they pass brilliant legislation like one recent law suspending drivers licenses if the information doesn’t match social security information. As driving with a suspended license is required to be a jailable offense, housewives across the state are being booked and processed because they never got around to standing in line at the SS office to change their SSN over to their married name.

    Logically, it makes sense, but it’s much more likely, especially in Georgia, that the next step will be 6 months in jail for driving with no license — teenagers beware!!

  4. Should we really be encouraging states to brazenly defy federal law? It’s one thing if they refuse to help, but we need to remember that states are not supreme; the federal government is. The failure of the articles of confederation, and then certainly the civil war, should have established that. What if California or New York decided our visa policy is bad and that it was going to start issuing its own visas too?

    Anna) The point is the non-citizens should in theory be removed. They should not be using any public services. Because of widespread failures at both the federal and state levels it’s not really practical to deport them all, but that’s hardly a reason to legitimize them; we just need a better way of dealing with it. Like employer sanctions.

  5. Guess what? The federal government has no control over a state’s right to issue a driver’s license. Remember that the federal government didn’t have the authority to raise the minimum drinking age to 21. They did (and were well within their right) to attach it as a condition of receiving federal highway money, but it was well within the states’ rights not to raise the drinking age in their state. Keep in mind that under federal law, there are powers that remain with the states.

    “What if California or New York decided our visa policy is bad” — well, that would clearly be visas, which is certainly within the federal realm, and the supremacy clause would make any such action void. That’s a completely irrelevant hypothetical that doesn’t address the legality of the actual proposals being made here.

    jvarisco) The point is that there’s only a THEORY about removing non-citizens. Sure, in theory, they should be removed (I would also point out that it’s the oh-so-supreme federal government that dropped the ball on the enforcement of their citizenship laws to begin with). Theory is all well and good — they should not be using any public services…but I’d prefer not to have people dying on the streets because they’re being refused health care, or children becoming illiterate because their parents made the choice to bring them here illegally and now they aren’t entitled to school. What about the huge gains to the federal (and state governments) from the non-citizens who use fake, shared, or borrowed SSNs for employment, and then (of course) never claim the tax refunds??

    You acknowledge that it isn’t practical to deport all of these people. Why isn’t granting them a license a better way of dealing with it. It doesn’t confer citizenship status, it just makes the additional premium on my car insurance (the uninsured motorist — if you don’t have it, you need it) lower. Incidentally, even if a non-licensed person is driving an insured vehicle, many times the insurance won’t cover a collision when the at-fault driver is violating laws (e.g., driving with a suspended license, or no license, or even expired registration).

    What we need is, as you say, a better way of dealing with the issue. Preferably, the people dealing with it won’t be sticking their heads in the sand and balking about giving an inch because “in theory, non-citizens should be removed”

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