Illegal Immigration: Information on Illegal Immigrants and Automobile Insurance in California

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-09-05.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

    United States
    General Accounthg Office
    Washington, D.C. 20548

    General Government Division


    September 5, 1997

    The Honorable Elton Gahegly
    House of Representatives

    Subjee     IUegaI Immigration: Information on Illegal Immigrants and
               Automobile Insurance in California

    Dear Mr. Gallegly

    On April 16, 1997, you asked us to conduct a study on the extent to which
    illegal immigrants operate motor vehicles in California without automobile
    insurance. Our prelim&ry work in response to this request indicated that the
    data necessary for us to answer your question were not available.
    Consequently, on June 19, 1997, we briefed your office on this development and
    discussed related information that we had gathered. Your office asked us to ,
    inquire about whether the Criminal Alien Identification Pilot Program,
    established by the Immigration and Natmalization Service (INS) and the city of
    Anaheim, California, at the city’s detention facility to identify criminal aliens for
    potential deportation, had any information available on illegal immigrants
    driving without automobile insurance. Your office also asked us to summarize
    the results of all of our work in a letter to you. This letter responds to that

    To determine whether information was available on illegal aliens operating
    motor vehicles without automobile insurance, we (I) conducted literature
    searches and obtained data from published reports and (2) contacted key
    officials from various national, state, and nonprofit organizations, including the
    National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the California Department of
    hxurance, and RAND.i We also visited and met with officials from the City of
    Anaheim’s detention facility. We performed this work from May through
    August 15, 1997. We did not obtain comments from the organizations we
    contacted because the limited work we did consisted primarily of presenting

    ‘RAND is a nonprofit institution providing research and analysis in many areas,
    including national defense, education and training, health care, criminal and
    civil justice, labor and population, science and technology, community
    development, international relations, and regional studies.
                                  1 GAO/GGD-97-172R Illegal Immigrants and Auto Insurame

                                  j39       soy

factual information obtained from published reports and because we did not verify,
analyze, or make recommendations about that information.


 We identified estimates of (1) US. illegal immigration, (2) California uninsured
 motorists, and (3) costs to Califotia consumers from uninsured motorists. We were,
 however, unable to find any information on the extent to which illegal immigrants in
 California were also uninsured motorists. At the Anaheim detention facility, we found
that, while some criminal aliens in detention were charged with driving without
 automobile insurance, the officials did not know whether other illegal aliens who
 drove had insurance. Consequently, data were not available to show the percentage of
 iRegaI immigrants in Cal.ifomia who did not have automobile insurance. .


According to INS estimates,2 the illegal resident population3 in the United States as of
October 1996 was 5 million, representing roughly 1.9 percent of the total U.S.
population. INS believes that more than 80 percent of the illegal residents have
settled in the seven states that traditionally have had the largest immigrant
populations: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and Arizona
In addition, INS estimated that 2 milhon illegal residents, or 40 percent of the current
estimated illegal resident population, live in California.                               i

Also according to INS,4 as of October 1996, 6.3 percent of California’s population
consisted of’illegal immigrants. The estimated growth in California’s illegal resident
population was about 100,000persons each year during the current decade.

?J.S. Department of Justice, INS Office of Public Affairs, “INS Releases Updated
Estimates of U.S. Illegal Population” (news release, Feb. 7, 1997).
“The INS estimates refer to the population of immigrants who have established
residence in the United States by remaining in the country for more than 12 months in
an illegal status.
‘U.S. Department of Justice, INS Office of Policy and Planning, “Estimates of the
Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: October 1996,”
Backsounder (INS Oflice of Public Affairs, Jan. 1997).
2                                      GAOIGGD-9?-172R Illegal Immigrants   and Auto Insurance

The State of California Insurance Commissi oner reported in April 1997 that at least 25
percent of California drivers, or an estimated 4 million motorists, were uninsured.5 He
also reported6 that an estimated 37 percent of the drivers in Los Angeles County, and
more than two-thirds of the drivers in low-income communities, drive without

In 1995, a California Department of Insurance report’ estimated the percentage of
uninsured motorists for 157 “underserved” communities.8 These communities were
arrayed by zip code, with city and county as part of the identifier. Of these 157 zip
codes, 75 were in Los Angeles County. The report also estimated that one zip code
area (San Ysidro, in San Diego County) had a 98 percent uninsured motorist rate, the
highest rate for the 157 zip code areas included in the report Two Los Angeles
County zip code areas were also estimated as having uninsured motorist rates
exceeding 90 percent

The California Department of Motor Vehicles’ Research and Development Section and
the Division of Program and Policy Administration issued a report in 1991’ that
included information on the costs incurred by insured motorists as a result of
accidents caused by uninsured motorists. For example, the report showed that the
total cost to insured motorists for accidents caused by uninsured motorists was           -
estimated to be $2.07 billion in 1988 and $2.37 billion in 1989. In addition, the average
annual cost per insured motorist, resulting from other motorists being umnsured, was
estimated to’be $145 in 1988 and $159 in 1989.

“California Department of Insurance, “Commissioner Quackenbush Holds a Hearing in
Los Angeles on Ways to Make Auto Insurance More Affordable to Uninsured Mototits
in California,” Press Release #27 (Apr. 17, 1997).
?Xifornia   Department of Insurance, Press Release: “1995 Year End Report.”
?The California Department of Insurance Statistical Analysis Bureau, Commissioner’s
Reuort on Underserved Communities meuorting Year 1995) (Feb. 1995).
‘An “underserved” community was defined in the state insurance code as a zip code
where (1) the proportion of uninsured motorists was 10 percentage points or more
above the statewide average-about 28 percent, (2) the per capita income of the
community was below the 50th percentile for California-about $14,000,and (3) the
community was predominately minority (composed of 67 percent or more minorities)-
the statewide average was about 43 percent.
gUninsured Motorists: Their Rate and.Cost to Insured Motorists, Final Report to the
Legislature of the State of California (Dec. 1991).
3                                    GAO/GGD-97-172R Illegal Immigrants and Auto Insurance

 The National Highway Traffic Safety AdmmWrationlo collects data from a nationally
 representative sample of police-reported motor vehicle crashes of all types, from
-minor to fataL However, the data collected do not include information on whether
 motorists were licensed, insured, or legally in the United States.

According to a Califomia Department of Motor Vehicles official, as of March 1, 1994,
the Department began requiring applicants for original California drivers’ licenses and
identification cards to show proof of legal presence” in the United States. The official
also told us, however, that the Department does not track or record any information
on the number of persons who were not issued drivers’ licenses because they failed to
prove legal presence in the United States.

According to the Acting Chief, Statistical Analysis Bureau, California Department of
Insurance, the Department does not collect or have any information on the legal
residence status of drivers in California Similarly, according to the Director of
Research, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 1.2the Association has no
information on illegal immigrants driving without automobile insurance. Further, he
said that he was unaware of any other organization that would possess data on the
number of illegal immigmnts driving without automobile insurance.

According to the California Highway Patrol’s Public Information officer, as of January
1, 1997, under a new law,13the California Highway Patrol began collecting data on
whether mot&&      cited for traf& violations could show proof of automobile liability

“As part of its duties, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is
under the Department of Transportation, conducts research on driver behavior and
traf& safety to develop the most efficient and effective means of bringing about
safety improvements.
“‘Acceptable legal presence documents can jnclude INS documents or other
documents with an INS notation to prove legal presence in the United States.
Documents must be legible and unaltered to establish proof of the person’s legal
presence in the United States.
 %ITheNational Association of Insurance Commissioners is an organization of insurance
 regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the 4 U.S. territories.
 13SeeState of California Department of Motor Vehicles, “AB 650 Vehicle Insurance Law
 Changes Go into Effect January I,” News Release #25 (Dec. 18, 1996). Under
 provisions of California’s mandatory vehicle liability insurance law, motorists must
 show evidence that they have liability insurance to a peace officer if they are stopped
 for a traffic violation. In addition, the law requires motorists to file evidence of
 liability insurance coverage when they renew their vehicle registration.
 4                                     GAO/GGD-97-172R Illegal Immigrants and Auto Insurance
insurance. In addition, the California Highway Patrol has been collecting data for a .
number of years on whether motorists had valid drivers’ licenses when cited for traffic
violations. However, the California Highway Patrol does not collect any information
on motorists’ legal residency status.

According to the Director of RAND’s Center for Research on Jmmigration Policy,
RAND has never issued a report or done a study that has attempted to identify the
extent to which illegal immigrants in California were also uninsured motorists.
Further, he said that he was not aware of any other organization that had attempted to
do this kind of study.


The City of Anaheim and INS entered into a pilot program to identify illegal aliens in
the city’s detention facility..” According to City police officials, their police officers
administer a survey to identify arrestees considered to be “most likely in the country
illegally.” INS assigned an agent to the city detention facility to determine the
immigration status of arrestees and detain illegal aliens for transfer to INS custody.

We visited the Anaheim detention facihIy and reviewed files for illegal aliens arrested
for trafk violations between July 22 and July 31, 1997, to determine whether any
were also uninsured motorists. We found that, of the 11 illegal aliens who had been .
arrested during that period for traffic violations, 3 were charged with not having
automobile msurance. The remaining eight offenders were not charged with being
uninsured, and their records did not contain any mention of the presence or absence
of automobile insurance. A Senior Detention Ofker told us that, although some
illegal aliens arrested for trafhc violations are charged with being uninsured, he could
not be certain whether others arrested for similar violations had insurance or not.

As we arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we
plan no further distribution of this letter until 10 days after its issue date. We will
then make copies available to others upon request

?‘he program was specifically authorized by section 329 of the Illegal Immigration
Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, P.L. 104208.
5                                      GAO/GGD-97-172R Illegal Immigrants   and Auto Insurance

Please contact Darryl W. Dutton of my staff on (213) 830-1086 or me on (202) 512-3610
if you or your staff have any questions. Other major contributors to this letter were
Sam Caldrone, Brian Lipman, and David Alexander.

Sincerely yours,

Norman J. R&kin
Director, AdnMstration
 of Justice Issues


 6                                    GAO/GGD-97-172R Illegal Immigrants   and Auto Insurance
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