Bringing echoes of the Trump campaign to Olympia, Washington state Sen. Don Benton called for the state to end the practice of allowing undocumented immigrants living here to have driver’s licenses.
OLYMPIA — Bringing echoes of the Trump campaign to the Washington Legislature, Republican state Sen. Don Benton Monday said he believes hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants have come to Washington just to get a driver’s license.
“I think we have hundreds of thousands of drivers in this state with driver’s licenses that are not residents and do not live here,” said Benton, who served as part of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign in Washington.
“Washington state is the prize,” he added later. “Come here, get a license, easy, then go anywhere you want and reciprocate for an ID.”
His remarks, made in a Senate Transportation Committee legislative hearing, drew rebukes, including from a fellow Republican.
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Washington is one of several states that haven’t complied with the federal government’s REAL ID Act. Put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the law calls for, among other things, states to verify the legal status of people applying for driver’s licenses.
The federal government has declared that starting in January 2018, Washingtonians with the type of license currently issued will need additional identification to board commercial airline flights.
Washington allows immigrants without proper legal status to live here — some of whom work in the state’s agricultural industry — to get a driver’s license. Supporters say it allows the state to make sure drivers are trained and tested, and have insurance.
Benton — who didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon — called for an end to that practice during the hearing.
There were concerns several years ago about immigrants without legal status coming to Washington for a day or two to get a driver’s license, according to Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, who chairs of the Transportation Committee.
In response, the state Department of Licensing (DOL) in 2010 began requiring that applicants show proof of residency — such as a car-insurance policy, bank records or lease agreements — for applicants who don’t provide a Social Security number.
The agency verifies the documents and also uses facial-recognition systems to help weed out possible cases of fraud, according to King and the DOL.
The original problem back then, according to King, dealt with hundreds of instances, “not hundreds of thousands” like Benton suggested. And, “We’ve tried to address that and for the most part we’ve been successful,” King added.
Benton “has the way he likes to look at things,” King said after the hearing. “And then a lot of the rest of us are trying to find a solution that is palatable for every part of society.”
Since 2010, the state has issued about 163,000 driver’s licenses to applicants who didn’t provide a Social Security number, according to DOL spokeswoman Christine Anthony. Not all of those were undocumented immigrants.
“They might be on a student or work visa, and want to drive while they are here,” Anthony wrote in an email.
Rich Stolz of the Seattle-based immigrant advocacy organization OneAmerica, condemned Benton’s remarks. Stolz said Benton was “trying to scare people into taking away people’s driver’s licenses.”