A law passed by the 2013 Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval allows immigrants in Nevada without citizenship status to obtain driver authorization cards. An increasing number of states have been passing similar laws in recent years, and 11 states and the District of Columbia have enacted such measures.
These cards authorize the holder to drive a motor vehicle on Nevada public streets and highways. A DAC is not valid as identification to obtain any state benefits, licenses or services or for federal purposes such as boarding aircraft or entering facilities where ID is required. Driver Authorization Cards are valid for one year from the date of issuance. You may renew the card each year. All renewals and address changes must be completed in person.
You cannot drive legally in Nevada without a driver’s license but you have long been able to buy auto insurance without one. It’s a little known fact that illegal aliens in Nevada have already been able to insure themselves, purchasing insurance for as little as $30 a month and as much as $200. It meets the state’s requirements, even if they’ve been illegally driving the roads.
Las Vegas agent Esperanza Montelongo sells at least a dozen policies for liability coverage a month. She has sold more than 5,000 policies in the past eight years for American Access, a Chicago-based insurance carrier that saw an opportunity to provide auto insurance to a segment of people who have been ignored by mainstream insurance companies. These immigrants have been considered a high risk because they can’t produce a valid driver’s license. Montelongo estimated that at least 80 percent of the undocumented population in Las Vegas already have insurance.
Asked whether from a business standpoint she’s looking forward to Nevada’s new driver authorization card, which will allow immigrants in the country illegally to legally drive in Nevada starting , the 58-year-old Nebraska-born woman sat back and chuckled.
“Gosh, I can only hope that there’s a huge fluctuation in business. But I’m not anticipating it because most of the Mexicans here are already insured,” she said, referring to Las Vegas.
“And I say Mexicans because we’re talking about Mexicans. Nevada is Mexican country. They’re the majority of my customers, and they’re fiercely loyal.”
It’s an interesting approach to doing the right thing and yet such purchases have been upstaged by the political hype surrounding the new card and the boon that an estimated 60,000 card-carrying customers are expected to bring insurance companies across the Silver State under Senate Bill 303, Montelongo said.
The legislation was designed to make the roads safer on the premise that motorists will not only be required to purchase insurance but also to pass DMV tests demonstrating that they know how to drive and understand the rules of the road.
Aztec isn’t the only insurance agency doing business in the valley. Nearly 50 such companies, most licensed and registered under the Nevada Department of Insurance, can be found in and around predominantly Latino neighborhoods. There’s Insurance for Less down the block from the Aztec Insurance office. There’s El Sol Insurance about a mile away. Estrella Insurance a little bit farther.
Many of these insurance companies here have been selling liability policies for years to immigrant motorists who want to be covered in case of an accident. In the absence of a license, the immigrants want to have proof of insurance should they be cited for a traffic infraction and wind up in court.
Alfonso Garcia, a criminal attorney, has represented hundreds of immigrants who have had to explain to Las Vegas judges why they don’t have a valid driver’s license. Many times that proof-of-insurance card brings leniency, not only from the traffic cop but also from the judge.
“We’re talking about people who are already on the radar for being in the country illegally,” he said. “The last thing they want to do is get stopped and not have proof of insurance.”
Mostly, Garcia said, the judges accommodate them by reducing charges and fines for first-time offenders. “They know that just about any of us can get cited for a traffic infraction, and so they give them a chance,” he said. “Just like they’d give you or me a chance.”
But because they are living in the country illegally, it can be difficult to produce a driver’s license without first producing proof of legal residency. This fact has led some offenders trekking across state lines to apply for driver’s licenses in the more lenient states, such as Oregon, Washington and New Mexico.
“But all that’s about to change,” Garcia said. “Now everything will be above board with the new law, and the judges are hip to that.”