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The Providence Journal

It’s one thing to help people who want to work and seek a better life. It’s another to say that Rhode Island should help people break the law.

But that is what state Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence, is proposing with a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants — people who, as the bill says, are “unable to establish a legal presence in the United States” — to drive.

Senate Bill 0053 would let undocumented immigrants obtain “driving privilege permits” and “driving privilege licenses” — not exactly the same as a driver’s license, according to the bill’s fine print, but still a step that amounts to a state sanction of people who may be here illegally.

The goal, in many ways, is laudable.

No one wants to add to the burdens of those who are already struggling and seeking a better life, and that struggle is made harder when people cannot legally drive to and from a place of work and travel in a way most of us take for granted. There is also the reality that some undocumented immigrants are going to drive with or without a license or permit to do so. That raises safety concerns if those people lack knowledge of our “traffic safety laws” or “the safe operation of a motor vehicle,” as the bill correctly points out.

But immigration, by its very nature, is a national issue. And America must solve its immigration problems as a nation, not through a system where each state makes up its own rules to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. Such a state-by-state approach leaves some states shouldering a much greater burden than others in meeting the social costs of educating, providing health care and fulfilling other needs of undocumented immigrants. Certainly, Rhode Island is in no condition financially to be far ahead of other states in covering such costs.

We are supposed to be a nation of laws. When individual states, even out of desperation, condone illegal activity, they encourage further lawbreaking and send the wrong message to everyone — U.S. citizens, those who have come here legally and those who wish to come.

The answer is for the 50 states, and advocates on the immigration issue, to send a message to Washington to end its partisan, out-of-touch bickering and take action. Let’s put the immigration ball in Washington’s court, and force Washington to play this time.