Should someone who is not legally in the United States be entitled to a driver’s license or a state-issued ID?
Diego Mendez, with the Tenant and Workers Support Committee’s Public Policy Project, thinks so.
“A driver’s license should do three things and three things only,” he said. “First, it should prove that the possessor is a resident of the state of Virginia. Second, it should prove that the possessor is who he says he is. Third, it should prove that the possessor has passed a test and is permitted to drive.”
Mendez spoke at a rally in front of a rendering of the Virginia State Capitol building on the old Datatel site on Mount Vernon Avenue. A group of about 50 immigrants came together to protest bills that are now in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly that would require a number of documents to obtain a driver’s license, including proof of “legal presence” in the United States.
Ines Aguilar went to Richmond with a group of advocates to speak to legislators about the Department of Motor Vehicles legislation. “I have had the problem of going to DMV six or seven times, bringing various documents and still not receiving my ID,” Aguilar said. “I need an ID or driver’s license to take money from a bank account, to take my children to the clinic, to get to and from work. I am not asking for a house or money. All that I am asking for is the same rights as everyone else. We work hard and deserve the same rights as everyone who lives here.”
THERE ARE MANY undocumented immigrants living in Alexandria and the surrounding jurisdictions. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it has been much harder for these individuals to obtain driver’s licenses or official IDs. In the past, a third party could sign a notarized statement verifying that another individual resided in his home, and that constituted proof of residence. That is no longer acceptable. Also, Social Security cards are on the list of required documents.
“The economic impact of not allowing taxpaying residents of the state of Virginia to obtain driver’s licenses is great,” Mendez said. “Many people drive illegally and cannot obtain insurance.”
State Sen. Patricia S. “Patsy” Ticer (D-30th) sponsored two DMV bills, both of them not being considered by the full Senate. “One of my bills would have made obtaining a driver’s license under false pretenses a felony instead of a misdemeanor,” she said. “The other would simply have allowed DMV employees to use their law-enforcement powers when not on duty. Neither of my bills really addresses the issues that the Committee is concerned about.
“I have seen some of this legislation, and frankly it is mean-spirited. One of the bills would make it impossible for diplomats who are legally in this country to obtain a driver’s license.
“I am very sympathetic to the immigrant community. I believe that, with the proper documentation that proves you do live in Virginia and that you really are who you say you are, people should be able to obtain a driver’s license. We are asking DMV employees to fulfill a function that INS has been unable to fulfill, and we are giving them no funding. That is ridiculous.”
Jennifer Johnson, who works for the Virginia Center for Justice, said, “The bills have been amended significantly, but we still have a long way to go. We need to continue to make it clear to DMV that a legal-presence requirement is simply not acceptable.”
The bills were being heard by the full houses this week. They can still be changed before they come before the full legislature for a vote.