Driver’s licenses: The next immigrant justice victory for Pennsylvania
Despite significant challenges, we’re making gains for immigrant justice.
In November 2014, Democrat Governor Wolf was elected to office and immediately appointed several Latinos to his cabinet. After massive mobilizations by immigrant communities, President Obama passed an Executive Order that would give temporary legal status to up to five million undocumented immigrants. Although a federal judge temporarily halted those programs, as an undocumented mother with citizen children I’m confident that this will soon be resolved and I will be able to obtain temporary status. We’re going to keep fighting until we win permanent status for all immigrants.
We’ve made local gains as well. At New Sanctuary Movement, where I’m a community leader, we won the Sanctuary case of Angela Navarro who lived in a church until Immigration stopped her deportation order. In April 2014, along with other local organizations we ended all ICE holds, local deportation requests. In only one year, we won two enormous campaigns that seemed impossible. This motivates us to keep fighting.
What will the next victory be? Pennsylvania will grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants! We need these driver’s licenses to be unmarked, equal in appearance to those of citizen drivers.
I’m fighting for licenses because I don’t have legal status. I need a license to drive my kids to school and for my work, allowing me to contribute to Pennsylvania’s economy. My husband had two back operations and I have to take him to physical therapy. I must take the risk of driving in order to support my family.
In Philadelphia, we stopped the connection between the police and Immigration. In rural areas of Pennsylvania, where this practice continues and there isn’t public transportation, immigrants on their way to school and work are deported for driving without a license. Giving immigrants licenses lowers the risk of separating families.
In order to obtain a license, one must pass a driver’s test and demonstrate knowledge of the rules of the road. Giving immigrants licenses will assure that all drivers are prepared. By denying us licenses, Pennsylvania’s government creates unsafe roads.
As immigrants we’re frequently victims of racial profiling by the police. Police officers take away our cars and charge us hundreds of dollars to get them back. It’s an unjust paradox: how can my car be taken away for driving without a license if I’m not allowed to get a license? I pay car insurance and this fine is unjust and an economic loss for my family.
At New Sanctuary Movement, we’re working with other groups like Fight for Driver’s License PA to organize immigrants and allies across Pennsylvania. An unmarked driver’s license bill – HB 1648 – is already written and will be introduced in the House of Representatives soon. We have a bill sponsor and 14 co-sponsors in the Pennsylvania House. These politicians agree with us: Pennsylvania must be safer for everybody. We have a plan to win this fight and invite everyone to join in.
We know that only with hard work, commitment, and faith, we can turn the impossible into a reality that benefits all of us. A united community will never be defeated.
Celia Mota is originally from Mexico and is a leader at New Sanctuary Movement and Visitation BVM Parish in Philadelphia.