Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face

My Grandmother, Emma, never finished elementary school but she was wise in many ways. She taught me not to cause problems for myself by trying to punish someone else. I often think of this when I read the news about immigration. I see “solutions” that cause problems for the country by punishing immigrants.

Two things in particular that I read in the last few days made me think of my Grandmother’s advice.

First is the denying of drivers’ licenses to undocumented persons.

The second is declaring that the “country is full” and trying to stop immigration into the U.S.

Most states require a person to prove “legal status” to obtain a driver’s license. About a dozen states (NOT including Florida), along with the  District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, allow a person without legal status to obtain a license upon establishing their identity with a foreign passport and passing the same tests as everyone else. Pending legislation would also let undocumented persons in New York obtain a license. This issue pits the desire to punish undocumented persons by denying them a license with the desire to enhance road safety.

William Bratton, who served as police commissioner in both Los Angeles and New York, has said that giving undocumented immigrants a driver’s license would reduce the number of hits and run accidents and would decrease the number of uninsured motorists on the roads. A 2017 study found that hit and run accidents in California decreased by 7–10% after undocumented immigrants were allowed to obtain licenses. After New Mexico allowed licenses to be issued to undocumented persons in 2011, the number of uninsured drivers fell from 33% in 2002 to 9 % in 2011. A 2017 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute shows that the State of New York would bring in an estimated $ 26 million in fees for license applications, car registration, and the gasoline tax if the pending legislation is passed.

These statistics clearly show that the desire to punish undocumented immigration comes at the steep cost of public safety. Would you rather make it more difficult to obtain licenses at the risk of being in an accident with an uninsured motorist? Would you rather that an undocumented immigrant stops and renders aid after an accident or flee because they didn’t want to be caught driving without a license?

The second example of the dangers of cutting off your nose to spite your face is the efforts to stop/reduce immigration (even legal immigration) to the U.S. An opinion piece was published in the Washington Post on April 11th entitled “Sorry, Mr. President, this country is not ‘Full’.” This was written by Marc A. Thiessen who is clearly a Trump supporter in many ways but expresses the opinion that we need “more immigrants, lots of them.” He cites the historically low unemployment rate in the U.S. and the National Federation of Independent Business statistics that show 39% of small businesses have a job opening that they can’t fill and 90% of business owners who hired or tried to hire workers reporting few or no qualified applicants.

The problem is that the U.S. is not producing enough native-born workers due to declining birth rates. The U.S. population rate growth is now below replacement levels. If not for the immigrants, we would be facing an overall population decline. According to Mark A. Thiessen, “an overall reduction in immigration would be disastrous for the country. We need immigrants to stop population decline. We need immigrants to work and pay taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare for our aging population. And we need immigrants to provide the human capital for continued economic growth and prosperity.”

We do have a humanitarian crisis on our Southern Border, but this should not allow us to lose sight of the economic reality that we need immigrants for a strong and healthy economy in the U.S. and we need them to have driver’s licenses for public safety purposes.

Linda M Kaplan
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