OLYMPIA, Wash. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna wants Washington state to join 48 others in requiring proof of legal residency to get a driver’s license. Democratic rival Jay Inslee isn’t so sure.
Critics have long argued that Washington is a magnet for identification fraud — and is welcoming to illegal immigrants — because it allows applicants to use unofficial documentation to get a license. Lawmakers have moved to strengthen the rules, forcing people to show proof of residency, but McKenna said he believes the state should go further and require verification that the residency is legal.
“It is a mistake for our state to be one of only two that does not have that requirement,” McKenna told The Associated Press in an interview.
States typically require Social Security numbers to get a license, since those are available to citizens and other legal residents. Temporary legal residents who are unauthorized to get a Social Security number can get a license in some states with official Social Security documentation showing that they are ineligible for a number.
Inslee wasn’t ready to support the Social Security requirement in Washington.
“I know there are multiple issues in question here, security and safety and access to jobs,” Inslee said. “I’d look to try and find some bipartisan consensus.”
New Mexico is the other state that does not ask for a Social Security number. Washington lawmakers have considered new restrictions in the past, and Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she would approve them if they are passed by the Legislature.
Both McKenna and Inslee said they support allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at Washington universities. Inslee said it was a matter of economic development, since the state wants young people who are productive students to go on to contribute to the state’s economy.
“I don’t see a reason why, when we’ve paid for their education through high school, to all of a sudden throw it in the waste bin and not use it to keep it going on through college,” Inslee said. McKenna said all young people in the state need to have access to higher education.
While McKenna supported stricter rules on driver’s licenses, he was not a supporter of stricter immigration rules endorsed by GOP leaders in Arizona and other states. The Arizona law, now the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court dispute, requires police to check the immigration status of people they think are in the country illegally.
McKenna said local law enforcement officers in Washington are not interested in becoming enforcers of immigration laws. He said those rules could make it more difficult for local law officers to maintain good relationships with members in their communities, making it harder to cooperate on issues such as gang violence and other crimes.
“I don’t think we need an Arizona law,” McKenna said.
Inslee also suggested he wouldn’t support replicating Arizona’s law or similar measures in other states.
“I haven’t read those in detail, but there’s nothing in there that I can think of right now that I would be proposing,” he said.