Should illegal immigrants be able to get Pennsylvania driver’s licenses? At first, the Shapiro administration seemed to support this idea. Now, not so much.

Answering questions from members of the House Appropriations Committee on March 4, Secretary of Transportation Mike Carroll said he and Gov. Josh Shapiro favor allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“The issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is something that I support, the department supports, the governor supports, with safeguards necessary to make sure that folks that are issued those products are treated the same as folks that have a regular driver’s license or a naturalized citizen or a citizen of the U.S.,” Carroll said.

However, during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee two days later, Carroll was more tentative.

“There are other agencies that will have a role with respect to the oversight,” Carroll said in response to a question on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants from Sen. Shariff Street (D-Philadelphia). “And it’s going to be important to make sure that those other agencies are able to get to a comfort level before that bill were to advance.”

Shapiro’s spokesman Manuel Bonder told DVJournal, “The Shapiro administration will continue to evaluate this proposal as it moves through the legislative process” — a far cry from a statement of support.

The bill (HB 769) sponsored by Philadelphia Democratic Reps. Danilo Burgos, Christopher Rabb, and Joseph Hohenstein would allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses and state identification cards. It remains pending in the transportation committee.

One member of that committee, Rep. Donna Scheuren (R-Gilbertsville), told DVJournal, “Granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants undermines the rule of law in Pennsylvania, and I stand against it. Driver’s licenses are a privilege for citizens and legal residents, not those who broke immigration laws, to enter our country illegally. It undermines our immigration system and could threaten our national security.

“As a member of the Transportation Committee, I believe my job entails writing or approving legislation that ensures proper safety measures are being taken in all forms of travel throughout our state,” said Scheuren. “This policy just opens a whole new list of concerns that PennDOT has not yet addressed. I am very opposed to this legislation, and I hope the Shapiro administration reconsiders their support.”

Rep. Mike Cabell (R-Luzerne) asked Carroll on Monday about undocumented immigrants obtaining REAL IDs in Pennsylvania. Beginning in May 2025, Pennsylvanians will need a REAL ID, a passport, or military identification to board an airplane or enter a military base or federal building.

“Over a dozen states already allow noncitizens, including illegal immigrants, to obtain driver’s licenses,” said Cabell. Meanwhile, federal DHS (Department of Homeland Security) policy stipulates that states can offer REAL ID to those with TPS temporary protected status. Does Pennsylvania allow noncitizens with TPS to obtain a real ID?

Carroll said, “When it comes to REAL ID, I was in the House when the REAL ID was voted the first time, and I voted against it because I thought we had a REAL ID in Pennsylvania: it’s called a Pennsylvania driver’s license. (But) Pennsylvania complied with the federal requirement. I have the greatest level of faith in our Pennsylvania motor vehicle folks that those folks that are getting REAL IDs. About 20 percent of Pennsylvania drivers have a real ID at this point, have the documentation necessary to support that REAL ID.”

He mentioned the documentation can be challenging to obtain, especially for women who use their married name.

“But the issuance of REAL ID is not something that happens haphazardly in Pennsylvania,” said Carroll.

Cabell also mentioned ghost flights that drop off illegal immigrants at various locations in the middle of the night. Carroll said he did not know what ghost flights were.

“There was one that just happened. It was diverted into Philadelphia in December,” said Cabell. “The question is, are we positive that there are not people (who are) obtaining REAL IDs in other states, and entering into our state?”

Carroll didn’t know.

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), the Republican chair of the committee, also asked Carroll whether “the administration does support licenses for illegal immigrants.”

Carroll said, “With the necessary safeguards so that law enforcement can do its job.”

Grove also asked whether the Department of State, which handles voter services, interacts with PennDOT. Deputy Secretary Kara Templeton said the Department of State and the counties have access to the SURE voter registration system. Last fall, Shapiro began a program to register voters automatically when they sign up for a driver’s license.

Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chester/Delaware), a candidate for attorney general, also opposes giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

Rep. Lisa Borowski (D-Newtown Square) said, “I look forward to learning more about the provisions of HB 769 when it is vetted through the committee process.”


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