Illegal immigrants could soon receive permits from the state to drive legally on Texas roads if one lawmaker is successful. Many would expect such an initiative from Democrats and, unsurprisingly, many of them are in support. However, the representative trumpeting the issue most loudly claims to be a Republican. State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook of Corsicana has proposed House Bill 4063 which would create a “Texas conditional drivers’ permit” specifically for those who cannot produce documentation to the state showing they are authorized to be in the United States.
The 2014 Texas Republican Platform explicitly provides that the party opposes giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants:
“We propose that every Texas driver’s license shall indicate whether the driver is a United States citizen. No such license shall be issued to anyone not legally in the country.”
Cook attempts to skirt by on a technical twist of words. It’s not a license. It’s a “permit,” according to Cook, who explained the difference at an earlier committee hearing:
“House Bill 4063 would create a conditional driving permit, and I got a lot of people here as witnesses because it’s not a driver’s license. This is a driving permit,” said Cook. “The permit would be a valid form of identification for driving purposes only … a substantial difference from Texas driver’s licenses.”
The legislation would also require illegal immigrants provide documentation of their identity in order for a criminal background check, however the law would specifically protect that information. In the case of an accident, even a fatal one, illegal immigrants would be shielded from their criminal history being disclosed to authorities for a legal proceeding, a privilege not even afforded to American citizens. Authorities would even be precluded from access for an immigration proceeding.
Though left pending when initially heard, last Monday Cook hastily announced a meeting of his State Affairs Committee from the floor, conducted in a back room where video recording is unavailable. The Committee then adopted a substitute by State Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring) and passed the legislation, by a vote of 7-3.
The measure has widespread support from Democrats. In fact, Wendy Davis even made it a mainstay of her disastrous gubernatorial campaign. Still, Cook’s actions should not come as a surprise. He advocated heavily for the same issue in the previous legislative session. Cook may have even been successful if it weren’t for State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano). Then a State Representative, Taylor called a point of order and successfully scuttled the measure from becoming law.
Acknowledging that the move is against the wishes of his own constituents and the expressed will of Texas voters, the liberal Austin political establishment heaped praise on Cook for his action.
“For him to carry a bill to provide driver’s licenses for undocumented workers is particularly courageous, although sensible,” said Harvey Kronberg of Quorum Report. “It is courageous because it goes against the kind of the mainstream thinking of Republican primary voters.”
Cook’s action comes as only the most recent example of his long pattern of advocacy for illegal immigrants. As Chairman of the State Affairs Committee he’s also initiated a blockade on legislation that would repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants—a policy he voted for in 2001 and has supported since.