SALT LAKE CITY — More uninsured drivers may emerge on Utah roads as a result of Rep. Stephen Sandstrom's immigration reform bill.
The 40,000 undocumented immigrants who possess driving privilege cards might be less likely to renew them, and new drivers might not be inclined to obtain one at all, knowing it could mean deportation if they're ever stopped by police. One of the primary reasons the Legislature created the option five years ago was to provide a means for noncitizens to obtain auto insurance.
As Sandstrom revealed his bill Friday, some community leaders expressed concern about the potential fallout, regardless of whether the measure passes. Getting a driving privilege card may be a difficult decision for illegal immigrants in Utah.
"It would seem logical that people would weigh the possibility of not getting picked up against the possibility that they might get picked up," said Archie Archuleta, head of the Utah Coalition of La Raza. "It's almost sixes."
And if people drive without insurance, that's "double danger," he said. "Now, it's physical danger that could happen to you and me."
Nanette Rolfe, Utah Driver License Division director, said it's hard to say whether Sandstrom's bill would have a chilling effect. But "I'm sure people will be more afraid to come in … just out of fear."
Sandstrom's bill would require police to check the immigration status of people detained or arrested for other reasons if officers have "reasonable suspicion" that they are here illegally. Officers would then need to turn over such people to federal immigration officials.
Sandstrom reiterated Friday that simply possessing the card would be enough for law enforcement to detain someone.
"The driving privilege card will, in an ironic way, be absolute admission that you are subject to the provisions of this bill," he said. "So the driving privilege bill has got to be rethought."
Sandstrom has stated several times that possessing such a card is "absolute proof that you're illegal," although Rolfe and the state senator who created the driving privilege card law strongly disagree with that assertion.
The law is working as intended, and it's "inaccurate on its face" to say it would be absolute proof someone is in the country illegally, said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.
"Not everyone who holds one is here illegally," Bramble said. "Therefore, how can that be in and of itself proof that someone is here illegally?"
Rolfe confirmed that there are people in Utah on student or work visas who have driving privilege cards. "That's absolutely correct," she said. Those cards expire when their visas run out, which could be three or four years from now. She estimated there are about 700 noncitizen legal residents with driving privilege cards.
Sandstrom has twice proposed legislation to repeal the driving privilege card law.
Bramble said Sandstrom's latest bill could put Utah motorists in harm's way because people without driving privilege cards will continue to drive.
"How are people protected if those people who are already on the roads don't have insurance?" he said.
Archuleta called it an "unknown consequence (of the bill) that gave us a lot of fear about this whole thing."
A 2008 legislative audit showed illegal immigrant drivers in Utah hold insurance at nearly the same rate as citizen drivers — 76 percent for those with driving privilege cards and 82 percent for those with driver licenses.
"If they're insured now, let's keep them insured," Bramble said.
Saying he will be "crucified" for suggesting it, Bramble said he might offer an amendment to Sandstrom's bill that would remove the driving privilege card from the equation.