SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The governor of Puerto Rico on Thursday endorsed a proposal that would allow illegal immigrants living in the U.S. territory to apply for a provisional driver's license.
The license would be granted only to those who have lived in Puerto Rico for a year and have either a passport or an embassy-issued document proving their identity.
If approved, Puerto Rico would join a handful of U.S. states that grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced he would submit his proposal to the island's legislature, saying that Puerto Rico should stop ignoring its immigrant communities.
"Their contributions to the country and respect for human dignity make them worthy of certain fundamental protections on behalf of the state," Garcia said.
An estimated more than 150,000 immigrants from the Dominican Republic live in Puerto Rico, the majority in the capital of San Juan, along with thousands of other Caribbean immigrants, mostly from Haiti.
Human rights groups applauded the governor's announcement, saying it was long overdue.
"All immigrants are going to benefit from this," said Jose Rodriguez, president of the Dominican Committee for Human Rights.
Rodriguez said the provisional licenses would also boost the island's struggling economy.
"It's going to create millions of dollars in revenue ... when all these immigrants get their license, obtain their car registration and buy a car," he said.
Garcia's party controls both the island's House and Senate, and legislators are expected to approve the proposal.
If approved, illegal migrants would have to renew their license every three years, compared with six years for a regular license. The provisional driving license would have a different design and state clearly that federal officials cannot accept it as a form of identification or for any other purpose. It would not explicitly say that its holder is an illegal immigrant.
"A person's immigration status is completely irrelevant when it comes to their ability to drive," the proposal states.
If the proposal is approved, the law would go into effect a year later.
Currently, New Mexico and Washington state allow illegal immigrants to apply for the same driver's license as a U.S. citizen. Utah issues a special driving permit that cannot be used for identification.