Police Chief rallies for temporary driver’s licenses for immigrants

Local support is growing for an initiative to give temporary driver’s licenses to immigrants.

Mike Tupper, Marshalltown Police Department chief and other law enforcement officials, have been talking to state leaders about honoring and supporting such a law.

Tupper said the idea is to give a two-year, temporary driver’s licenses to any immigrant who can pass a driving test, get mandatory insurance and be able to prove their identity.

“It’s not an immigration issue, it’s a public safety issue,” Tupper said. “I think that it’s good for law enforcement, I think it’s good for traffic safety and I think it’s good for public safety in general.”

Tupper said not only would the initiative benefit Iowa as a whole, but it would benefit Marshalltown because of its large, diverse population. Thirteen states already offer some form of driver’s card to immigrants, he said.

“It will help folks get insurance for when they drive and if they have a traffic accident they will have coverage,” Tupper said. “That helps not just the driver but the person they hit. I think we will see a reduction in hit and run crimes.”

By allowing immigrants to have a temporary driver’s license, Tupper said it will not only benefit traffic issues, but everyday contact, which will help law enforcement officers.

“When we deal with folks in the field, it makes it easier for us to be able to do our jobs and it makes us more effective in doing our jobs, when we can identify who we are talking to and who we are dealing with,” Tupper said. “I think that might be helpful for the job that we have to do here in policing our community, for us to be able to know who we are talking to.”

Veronica Guevara, of Marshalltown, said she thinks the initiative makes sense and would benefit the entire state if it was enforced.

“I think it’s definitely practical,” Guevara said. “It just makes sense for the well-being of everyone in the community because everyone knows that when there’s uninsured drivers everybody else pays the price. Why not have something practical and workable that would make the community safer?”

Joan Jaimes, outreach counselor at Marshalltown Community College and an Immigrant Allies member, supports the idea for not only the safety of the roads but for children.

“I feel its very important for the education for our children,” Jaimes said. “They wouldn’t have the excuse of not having a ride to school because now their parents would have a driver’s license and be able to drive them to school.”

Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said the initiative would be too late to go in now as an individual bill during this legislative session.

“I think it’s something the legislature ought to start looking at, explore and hear the opinions of many people,” Smith said. “I would like to hear more of the pros and cons of doing this and like I say, if it were to be something studied by the legislature we would have to see if it would protect the public by doing this.”

Proposals for temporary driver’s cards make clear that no one can use a driver’s card to register to vote or to actually vote, apply for public benefits, apply for a firearm owner ID card, board an airplane or enter a federal building. The driver’s card would have to be renewed every two years.

Smith said he would like to hear more from the community about what they think about the initiative.

Tupper agrees.

“I hope this will cause people to start thinking about how this initiative might help,” Tupper said. “If there are folks in the community that are interested in getting involved I would ask that they give me a hollar and see how we can all work as a community to make this a reality.”

Tupper said as long as people are willing to listen, he and other members of the law enforcement will continue to talk about the initiative.

“We strongly feel this will benefit Iowa and will enhance public safety,” Tupper said. “It’s a work in progress like any legislative issue is and there is a lot of hoops to jump through but I think it’s worth the effort and we are going to continue to try.”