Coalitions support licenses for undocumented immigrants
A public hearing co-hosted by state Reps. Mark Cohen and Leslie Acosta focused on a proposal to allow undocumented Pennsylvania residents to acquire a state driver’s license.
Testimony from several organizations including Pennsylvania Fight for Drivers Licenses, Juntos, Philadelphia Praise Center, New Sanctuary Movement, and immigration and personal injury law firms voiced support for Cohen’s proposal.
Among those offering testimony was Esvin Maldonado, a Guatemalan who lives in Chambersburg (Pa.), explained that approximately 13,000 Latinos live in the area. “The majority do not have a social security number and most of them are agricultural workers who cannot get a drivers license,” he said.
Maldonado shared the story of Victor, a young man who strove to finish high school and to learn English so that he could get a good job, or possibly join the Air Force. “But these dreams were destroyed in August of 2008 when he was on his way to work and he stopped to check a fault on his car. A police officer stopped to see what was going on and asked him for his driver’s license, which he did not have.”
Because he didn’t have a driver’s license he was detained and one month later was deported. “Victor is my son. He lives in Guatemala now and we miss him very much,” Maldonado said.
For Celia Mota, leader at New Sanctuary Movement, driving a car is not a luxury but a crucial need. “About seven years ago my husband, who is a U.S. citizen, had an accident that left him with his back injured. At that moment I was forced to drive without a license,” Mota said.
Before the accident she was afraid to drive because of the risk of being arrested, deported and separated from her children and husband. “I knew how to drive when my husband had his accident, but there was no way for me to learn the traffic rules in Pennsylvania. I had to learn them myself,” Mota said. “I have to manage to take the kids to school, go to medical appointments with my children and my husband. I need to drive to be able to move quickly since I also work full time from my home.”
Estimates show some 200,000 undocumented residents live in Pennsylvania. Before 2002, residents in Pennsylvania were able to get a driver's license using their tax ID number, but when the law changed, the state cancelled the drivers’ licenses of thousands who had gotten their licenses legally at the time.
Cohen said in the current legislative session he intends to introduce legislation similar to his H.B. 1648, which was disregarded by the Transportation Committee.
“Right now, a driver’s license can help people gain access to food, healthcare, transportation, education and more,” Cohen said. “These are our neighbors who came to America looking for better opportunities than those found in the homes they left. It is time to include these immigrants in our society instead of isolating them.”
The bill would allow undocumented individuals who do not have a Social Security number to submit a federal tax identification number, or a combination of documents, including a valid foreign passport, consular identification, or a certificate of birth, marriage, adoption or divorce, to establish identity when applying for a driver’s license.
Acosta said she is eager to co-sponsor Cohen’s measure. “Many of these residents have lived in the state for decades,” Acosta said. “They have contributed to our economy for years by taking on various jobs, including in the hospitality, agricultural, and cleaning industries. It only makes sense that these workers would be granted access to a driver’s license, which would help them do their jobs even more effectively and improve their quality of life overall.”