Brian Sandoval, Republican candidate for governor, can be seen in a recently posted YouTube video walking right up to the line of supporting driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
“It’s an issue that I would strongly consider,” he says, after being asked about it by a woman who says she represents Hispanic insurers. “Folks who are gonna be out driving anyway, we should know who they are, they should be insured. That protects everybody.”
He is then asked again if he favors the idea.
“I would consider it, yes.”
Another sentence is somewhat inaudible, but he seems to have concluded the discussion by reiterating his support for the idea, which is then followed by scattered applause.
His remarks contradict a statement from a campaign spokeswoman in early February that Sandoval is opposed to the idea.
The campaign released a statement Tuesday clarifying Sandoval’s position.
“As a former judge, I normally consider all the arguments on most issues,” the Sandoval statement read. “I did consider the arguments on this issue, but the potential of legitimizing illegal immigration would outweigh the civil protections of mandatory insurance or data collection. Therefore, I would not support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.”
Previously, Sandoval had seemed on the fence, at a Latino Lions Club event in Reno, for instance.
“That’s a very, very difficult issue and there are two arguments with regard to that,” Sandoval said, according to a February Reno Gazette-Journal article. “I need to learn more about it. I would be happy to sit down with you so I could learn the positives and what the advantages would be.”
The newspaper later asked him about his indecisiveness on the issue. According to the article, Sandoval said the law doesn’t allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. “So right now, I support what the law is,” he said.
Any perception of ambiguity or flip-flopping could create problems for Sandoval in his race against incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, political observers say.
Gibbons is running hard to appeal to the party’s strident conservative base.
Illegal immigration is a potent issue among the conservative Republicans who will turn out for the June 8 primary, and the YouTube video will almost certainly rocket around party circles and could be converted into an attack advertisement.
“This is going to dog him,” said Eric Herzik, UNR political scientist. “You are talking about an issue that has high emotional appeal, high emotional content.”
As Herzik notes, Sandoval is in a no-win situation.
“The easiest answer is illegal immigrants are illegal and should be deported,” Herzik said. “In the Republican primary that’s the safest answer.”
As Herzik noted, however, that may not be the best answer for Sandoval if he is looking ahead to the general election.
Sandoval’s appeal, and a key reason he is now favored by the Republican establishment over the incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons, is his ability to reach out to nonpartisan and Democratic voters, and — potentially — Hispanics.
Nationwide, all but a handful of states require applicants for driver’s licenses to show proof of legal residency in the United States.
Exceptions include Utah, for instance, which allows undocumented immigrants to use a federal taxpayer identification number as a substitute for a Social Security number. The license is called a “Driving Privileges Card.”
Because auto insurance companies require a valid driver’s license, undocumented immigrants are usually uninsured unless they have a license from a state such as Utah. This means when they get in accidents, other drivers are left unprotected.
After instituting a program allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses, New Mexico saw its rate of uninsured drop from 33 percent to 10.6 percent in five years, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
Some law enforcement officials, including legendary former New York City and Los Angeles police chief William Bratton, have favored giving licenses to undocumented immigrants. They say without a licensing procedure these immigrants, who often drive anyway, are difficult to track. They are also not given proper driving instructions or testing and are more likely to be involved in hit-and-run incidents.
Opponents of the idea say it will merely encourage undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States.
Sun reporter Michael J. Mishak contributed to this story.