Cuccinelli opinion sparks debate on documents for drivers licenses

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an official opinion last week informing the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles that it is not required to accept federal work permit cards as proof of lawful presence in the United States for the purpose of issuing a driver’s license, permit, or special identification card.

The Cuccinelli opinion was highlighted by the attorney general’s office in a news release sent out on Monday. The ACLU of Virginia responded to the news with word from its office that it will step up efforts to push a policy reversal.

“We know from our interviews that this policy is devastating for many legally present immigrants who can’t find work because they can’t obtain a driver’s license,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “We are urging everyone – including immigrants, their neighbors and their employers – to contact their elected officials and let them know about the devastating effects of this unfair policy.”

The opinion from Cuccinelli was issued in response to a request from Virginia DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb. Virginia law requires applicants for drivers’ licenses, permits, and ID cards to present documentation showing they are lawfully present in the United States. The law does not spell out which documents an applicant can rely upon to establish lawful presence. The Cuccinelli opinion concludes that the DMV has the authority and the discretion to decide which documents are appropriate, and that Holcomb was acting within his discretion to discontinue using it to establish lawful presence.

The policy was adopted after a traffic fatality involving a Bolivian immigrant who used a federal work permit to obtain an ID. The driver did not have a driver’s license.

“The policy was hastily adopted in the wake of a tragic accident, but there is simply no connection between the work permit and the accident,” Willis said. “We can only conclude that the state was looking for a scapegoat to explain how it allowed someone who caused such an accident to drive illegally, and it chose to do so by taking away one of the most important uses of one of the most important official government documents issued to many immigrants.”


The official opinion from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli can be found on the attorney general’s website at

The ACLU and other organizations sent a letter to DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb in September after the new policy was adopted. It is available at

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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