In the heyday of terrorism paranoia, the Virginia General Assembly changed the requirements for obtaining a driver’s license. All House and Senate patrons were Republicans. They made proof of legal presence a requirement. Many Democrats were cowed into supporting this. The unintended consequences are apparent now; change the law!
While the grander issues of separating families through deportation, comprehensive immigration reform, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and in-state tuition are terribly important, the day-to-day practical issue of transportation that allows migrants to support themselves and their families is most immediate for laborers. In many cases, persons whose status allows them to legally remain in the United States are prohibited from obtaining licenses under Virginia law.
“How, if you are allowed to work, are you not able to drive to work?” – Joseph Montano, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia
The consequences on a personal level are devastating. Virginians still in high school, working to support their families, end up taking court docket time, missing school, and paying fines that are doubly punitive. Teachers who take an interest in the welfare of their students often accompany them on their own time in an effort to provide at least support and some counsel. Out of necessity, many end up repeat offenders. Further, being responsible, they make an effort to follow the law by acquiring insurance. But as anyone who has experience in the shadows knows, there is only street justice there. Who knows if these often more expensive policies are even in force?
Prior to 2003, employment authorization documents were proof of legal presence sufficient to obtain a Virginia driver’s license. But in bills passed during the legislative session that year this changed. Anyone familiar with the long and painful process of obtaining documents from Customs and Immigration will know that the process even after approval can drag on for a long time due to the immigration backlog. What that means in Virginia is that migrants who have deferred action approvals, are therefore legally present, cannot obtain a driver’s license. Employment authorization documents should be sufficient proof of legal presence. To this end, Edgar Aranda of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations and Joseph Montano addressed the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights meeting in Charlottesville last Saturday.
And what of those who do not have legal presence but want to be responsible? A driver’s license is essential for persons who want to care for their families. And does it make any sense at all to force any driver to drive without a license and without insurance when nothing stops anyone from acquiring a vehicle? Or to put drivers on the road who have not had proper training, testing, and certification. This law is an ass. For any legislator wanting a little help crafting the change, California recently conformed its license requirements to reality with Assembly Bill 60.
One construction worker who came to California from Honduras spoke at the hearing, saying the law will change his life: “We’ll be able to drive to get to work, drive our kids to school, and if there’s an emergency, get to the hospital.” – from a story in Breitbart on California’s new license law
This situation will only grow worse as the patchwork of proposed new federal deferred statuses with differing terms and qualifications proliferates. Virginia Republicans will undoubtedly be unwilling to correct any of this immediately. But they need to be called out in every legislative session until the law is changed. And Democrats should grow spines. To make it more palatable, separate migrants into two classes if you must: those who have legal presence but lack the documentation currently required and all others. Introduce two or three bills. How does it make any sense to create a barrier to proper testing and documentation of drivers? And how is it moral to force responsible migrants to pay higher insurance rates for policies that may or may not be legitimate?
Oh, and by the way, doesn’t this serve the interest of our public safety and security by increasing the proportion of licensed and insured drivers on the highways?
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