Washington is one of just two states -- the other being New Mexico -- that allows illegal immigrants to obtain valid state driver's licenses.
But it looks as if that might finally change as an effort to require documentation to obtain a license is gaining momentum in the Legislature -- but not without opposition and controversy.
Those against the proposal see it as an attack on Latinos and immigrants. They've been vocal in their protests at the state Capitol.
While we can certainly understand their concerns, as racism does still exist in our society, we don't see this as either an anti-Latino or anti-immigrant proposal. This is simply a much-needed change so Washington will be in step with the rest of the nation.
Because Washington's lax documentation policy, the state has become a magnet for undocumented immigrants.
The Associated Press reported last year that three states -- Washington, New Mexico and Utah (where illegal immigrants could obtain modified driver's licenses) -- saw surges in the number of immigrants seeking licenses. Washington state granted 3,200 licenses to people from outside the U.S. through June of 2010, exceeding the pace of 5,992 for all of 2009.
This was attributed to states such as Arizona cracking down on illegal immigration and the fact that state after state is now requiring proof-of-residency documentation in the wake of the 9/11 attack in 2001.
At the urging of the Department of Homeland Security, nearly every state that issued driver's licenses to non-legal residents stopped the practice. By 2009, all but Washington, New Mexico, Utah and Hawaii had changed their laws.
It's now down to two.
"In order to work in this country you have to have a Social Security number, and we're just asking for the Social Security number," said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, the prime sponsor of the legislation. "I would hope people aren't working without Social Security numbers. Because if you are, you're part of the underground network, which really creates a lot of problems for a lot of workers."
The fact is undocumented immigrants are in this country illegally. Pretending the law isn't being broken -- looking the other way when issuing state driver's licenses, as Washington now does -- is foolish.
Washington needs to take action to bring its driver's license requirements in line with the rest of the nation.