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Allowing undocumented immigrants to legally drive could alleviate supply chain, construction shortages

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Advocates rarely call for immigrants living in the U.S. to be immediately given citizen status, but rather allow all those living in the U.S. a path to citizenship free of fear of deportation.

“Immigration reform can help the Wisconsin economy at a time when the demographics of an aging society are chipping away at the state’s workforce, from its kitchens, farms and resorts to its research laboratories and tech companies,” Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, wrote in a newspaper editorial published in 2013.

One of the barriers keeping undocumented immigrants from working, and thus filling gaps in the ongoing labor shortage, is that it is illegal for them to have a driver’s license in most states, including Wisconsin. As such, there are more legal barriers to working in many industries that are hurting for workers, such as construction or in supply chains.

Approximately 30% of American jobs require driving, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And so, it is effectively impossible for undocumented immigrants — even if they are on a path to citizenship — to fill approximately 30% of the country’s open jobs.

Truckers, who obviously need to be able to legally drive, are among the most desired workers in the country right now because of their essentiality in the supply chain. Reports over the course of the past three years point to the shortage being somewhere between 55,000 and 80,000 truckers nationwide.

Drivers License Expansion

Immigrant rights advocates rally outside the Oregon state Capitol in favor of a measure that would expand driver's license access to undocumented immigrants on March 26, 2019, in Salem, Ore.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz

Neumann-Ortiz

“The absence of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers at the state level impacts the construction industry,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee-based advocacy nonprofit focused on workers rights and immigration issues.

Unlike many service jobs, construction workers need to travel from one job site to the next on a daily basis. If someone’s transport is not flexible, working in construction is nearly impossible.

Last month, HousingWire.com reported that the “construction worker shortage has reached ‘crisis’ levels with there being currently 300,000 to 400,000 open construction positions on a monthly basis,” citing data from the Home Builders Institute.

There are approximately 32,000 people living in Wisconsin who cannot get a driver’s license and 28,000 Wisconsin drivers without car insurance because they are undocumented, notes a 2018 report from Kids Forward, a liberal-leaning research organization.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed allowing undocumented people living in Wisconsin to get driver’s licenses, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has not allowed it. Among their concerns are that allowing non-citizens to get driver’s licenses would make it easier for them to vote illegally, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in 2014.

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