SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rican government on Thursday announced that it will issue driver’s licenses to undocumented foreigners, a measure that could benefit more than 100,000 immigrants on the island, most of them Dominicans.
The measure is a significant step in that possessing it will now allows thousands of Dominicans and other foreign migrants lacking identification to open bank accounts, be legally hired and pay taxes.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced at a press conference the change in the rules for obtaining provisional driver’s licenses, a move that comes thanks to an amendment to the U.S. commonwealth’s Motor Vehicle and Traffic Law approved in June 2013.
Applicants will need to prove they have resided in Puerto Rico for more than a year, that they lack a Social Security Card, are not U.S. citizens or are not authorized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to live in the United States. They would still have to pass the regular driving and traffic regulations tests.
“These driver’s licenses symbolize a light illuminating the lives of men and women who are experiencing situations of vulnerability out of fear of deportation and fear of being separated from their loved ones and the country that has taken them in,” Garcia Padilla said.
Federal authorities will not accept the license as valid identification for flying on an airplane or for any other purpose.
The license will be valid for three years, can be renewed for another three years and will have a different design than standard driver’s licenses.
Being an identity document with a photograph and issued by the government, the license will not only make it easier for Puerto Ricans to do routine tasks but will also enable a person who has irregular immigration status to feel safe going to a hospital and registering their children for school.
Garcia Padilla emphasized that the Puerto Rican police cannot arrest people carrying the provisional license because of their immigration status.
According to the most recent figures, Puerto Rico’s population officially stands at 3.6 million, of whom 68,000 are Dominicans with U.S. citizenship.
There are no figures concerning the number of undocumented Dominicans in Puerto Rico, but unofficial calculations are that they could number around 100,000, although some estimates range as high as 400,000.