New Utah Legislation Could Call for Multi-Jurisdictional Background Checks of Immigrant Drivers

By Michael Klazema on 2/19/2015

The Senate Transportation Committee in Utah is taking strides toward implementing nationwide, multi-jurisdictional checks for immigrant drivers living in the state. Currently, the state of Utah has a system that allows undocumented or unauthorized immigrants to obtain "driving privilege cards," as an alternative to the standard commercial driver's license usually required to operate a motor vehicle.

Right now, drivers trying to obtain these cards only have to undergo background checks that cover Utah and "a few neighboring states." The legislation that the Senate Transportation Committee is considering, filed as SB184, would require all applicants for driving privilege cards to undergo a multi-jurisdictional background check, through the FBI criminal database.

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, driving privilege cars are meant for people who are "unable to establish legal/lawful presence" and "ineligible for a U.S. Social Security Number." This way, an unauthorized or undocumented immigrant can legally drive in Utah while pursuing citizenship or conducting other business. Including Utah, 10 states have laws allowing for these temporary driver privilege cards.

With the current background check system, driving privilege cards cost immigrants about $80 apiece. The proposed FBI checks would increase the price by $30, a fact that would likely cause protest among the undocumented immigrants making use of these privilege cards.

According to the republican senator who is sponsoring the background check legislation, a broader look into applicants' criminal history is necessary at this juncture. The senator referred to a past incident where a person applying for a driving privilege card had "committed a heinous crime" in another state. Since the background check policy for these temporary driving cards usually focuses only on offenses committed in Utah, the applicant's past misdeed was overlooked.

Multi-jurisdictional checks would help to flag dangerous individuals, spur the arrests of applicants facing outstanding warrants, and create an all around safer system. That all sounds positive, and indeed, the Senate Transportation Committee didn't see anything to gripe, either: the group unanimously approved SB184 and advanced it to the next stage of the lawmaking process. The next step?A vote from the full State Senate.

One concern with this new law might be slow processing or background check backlogs. The FBI criminal database is notorious for processing background checks slowly. And since Utah issued more than 35,000 driving privilege cards last year alone, backlogs could certainly be a problem for Utah driver's license offices. Even if that's the case, though, there is no doubt that state checks alone aren't enough to make sure applicant's are safe and trustworthy. In this case, multi-jurisdictional checks, whether through the FBI or another database are providing a more comprehensive understanding of somebody's past.


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