Allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain state issued driver’s licenses is once again the focus of legislation being introduced at the State House this week. The legislation (H5511/S0153) is sponsored in the House by Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) and in the Senate by Senator Frank Ciccone (Democrat, District 7, Providence, North Providence).

Currently 12 states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

A study from the Latino Policy Institute shows that driver’s licenses for undocumented residents has the effect of lowering traffic fatalities, lowering car insurance and helps the poverty rate to decline.

Lia Maria De Leon Rosario

Lia Maria De Leon Rosario, a junior at the Met School described the struggles of members of her family who did not have access to a license. “I and many others have witness the struggle of legalization,” said Rosario. “The process itself can be excruciating, as well as the struggles that come along with it.” In her own family, there were times when the struggled with issues of transportation, money and food and questions like, ‘Who’s going to pick us up from school or drop us off?’ or ‘How is my mom even going to be able to go to work?'”

Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, a leader of the Interfaith Coalition and rabbi of Temple Sinai in Cranston, welcomed participants and highlighted the moral imperative to respect every human being regardless of immigration status and acknowledge the dignity of their efforts to work and provide for their families.

Catarina Lorenzo, organizer with AMOR, which hosts a 24 hour multi-lingual support line connecting immigrants to mental health care, legal assistance, transportation as well as joining with other grassroots organizations to promote justice for immigrants, spoke about the fear in which many immigrants are currently living and their intense desire to be active and engaged members of the Rhode Island community. Having access to a driver’s license in a state in which public transportation is not adequate is vital to immigrants’ ability to support themselves and their families.

Javier Juarez, a DACAmented Rhode Islander emphasized the public safety function of allowing all adults to obtain a driver’s license. Ensuring that a driver knows the traffic laws, has good vision and can pass the driving test makes us all safer on the roads. Moreover, with the driver needs to obtain insurance providing protection in case of an accident.

“I sponsor this bill every year because it is about two very important things,” said Representative Williams. “First, the legislation ensures that all drivers on the road are knowledgeable of traffic safety laws and safe operation of motor vehicles. This bill is about the safety of everyone on Rhode Island’s roads, whether they are legal residents or undocumented residents. Also, by passing this legislation, we will acknowledge our too often forgotten immigrant community in Rhode Island. These are hard-working people who greatly contribute to our state, pay taxes, and want nothing more than to achieve the American Dream. By granting them driving privilege licenses, we will be lifting them out of the shadows and placing them on the proper path to legal residency.”

“We need to ensure that all drivers, regardless of their immigration status, are trained, tested and insured when driving on our roads,” said Senator Ciccone. “This is a safety issue as well as an economic issue. If the worst was to happen and an accident occurs involving an undocumented person driving, our residents and businesses are protected far better if this legislation is enacted as opposed to the current status quo.”

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Brandi N Dean
Brandi N Dean

Meanwhile… Kids get pb&j sandwiches for lunch because they can’t afford to pay their bill… Come on Rhode Island!