When unauthorized persons are not legally able to drive

There are 19, mostly blue states, which provide to unauthorized persons documents to allow them to drive. (Go here).  Wisconsin is one of 31 states which do not provide a satisfactory document to permit them to drive. A Propublica report captures the actual experience of law enforcement dealing with unauthorized persons: a lot of informal accommodation.

Normally, states require a would-be driver to prove identity and age, usually with documents like a birth certificate, passport, or Social Security card, pass required written and driving tests, and have lawful immigration status if not a U.S. citizen. The REAL ID standards for state-issued documentation such as driver’s license requires proof of legal status (The mandatory adherence to REAL ID for states is now in 2025). Thus a state needs to create another document, valid in that state alone, to enable unauthorized persons to drive.

A typical instance of where this authorization is valuable is for rural dairy workers, who do not have access to public transportation and need to drive to work, get groceries, etc. Propublica reports on dairy workers in Wisconsin.

From the Propublica article: Elected district attorneys in several counties have stopped bringing criminal charges against people caught driving without a license; both Democrat and Republican prosecutors say they want to dedicate their limited resources to crimes with victims.

And in four counties in southwestern Wisconsin, community advocates worked with local law enforcement agencies and dairy farmers a few years ago to create identification cards that workers could show officers during traffic stops to prove that they worked in the area and, potentially, keep those encounters from escalating.

“It did not prevent them from getting a ticket, but it prevented them from being handcuffed and hauled off to jail,” said Shirley Barnes, the recently retired co-director of the MultiCultural Outreach Program in Dodgeville. “The fact is, all the police officers in all of these counties know exactly where these people work. They know it is local farmers who are employing these people.”

Example of an authorizing law, Massachusetts: Massachusetts license for otherwise eligible individuals who present proof of identity, date of birth and state residence. Prohibits inquiries and recording of an applicant or license holder, citizenship or immigration status, with limited exceptions. Includes confidentialities provisions.

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