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Senate committee moves legislation that will continue driver’s licenses for Dreamers



The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S2678a, which will allow DACA recipients to continue driving legally in Rhode Island. The DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program has been terminated by President Donald Trump, leaving thousands of young Rhode Islanders, known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to this country as children, at risk of losing their ability to drive in our state. The bill, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) would, “continue the status quo relating to operator’s and chauffeur’s licenses to approved recipients under the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.” The bill also makes clear that “the issuance of a Rhode Island operator’s license shall not confer the right to vote in the state of Rhode Island.”

The legislation is supported by The Immigrant Coalition, a diverse coalition of nearly thirty social justice organizations.

Ahead of the vote there was a rally in the State House rotunda to urge passage in both the Senate and the House. Dreamer Rodrigo Pimentel, who was brought to Rhode Island at the age of 10 months, emceed the event. Licenses, said Pimentel, “is a very simple ask. It’s part of our humanity.”

“Washington dysfunction has made it so the majority of undocumented immigrants have no way to obtain legal status,” said Gabriela Domenzain, of Roger Williams University‘s Latino Policy Institute. “But while the national landscape is bleak, and the President uses every opportunity to malign and scapegoat immigrants, what’s happening in Rhode Island should give us all hope…”

“Rhode Island should be very proud of what is happening today with the vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Steven Brown of the Rhode Island ACLU. “There is a very mean spirited federal administration… trying to ruin the lives of people who may have been here almost their entire lives.”

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“This is an issue that resonates deeply with me as a Jew,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser of Temple Sinai in Cranston. “Without freedom, law is merely the expression of one person’s will over another. Without just and appropriate laws, freedom is just a license for chaos.”

“A lot of times when we talk about undocumented, illegal or immigrant, we forget that this is a human issue,” said David Veliz, policy advocate for Progresso Latino. “These are human beings who come to this country and end up loving this country.”

“A driver’s license,” said Jennifer Wood from the Rhode Island Center for Justice, “is evidence that someone has come forward and had it assured that they have the requisite vision to drive a car, that they have the requisite skills to drive a car, and that they are going to operate a motor vehicle in a safe and responsible manner.”

“A driver’s license isn’t merely a document,” said Catarina Lorenzo, from AMOR, through an interpreter. “Rather, it is public safety for all of us.”

Here’s the Senate Judiciary Committee vote, which came at the very end of last night’s hearing:

Before the Senate Judiciary vote the committee also heard testimony on S2567, “would allow the department of motor vehicles to issue driving privilege licenses and driving privilege permits to applicants unable to establish lawful presence in the United States. The driving privilege licenses and driving privilege permits would not be valid for identification purposes.”

This more expansive bill would allow all undocumented immigrants, not just DACA recipients, the opportunity to get a “driving privilege license.”

Similar legislation was heard in the House Judiciary Committee as well.

Below is the testimony of all those who spoke in favor of the bill:

Here is the testimony of the two people who spoke against the bill:

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.