Infrastructure & Environment

Immigrant-Driving Debate Steers to Pennsylvania

January 10, 2014
 

Should immigrants living here unlawfully be permitted to drive? Should they be eligible for city-issued photo IDs?

Eight states and the District of Columbia said yes to the driving question with controversial laws passed last year.

At least nine municipalities nationwide, including Trenton, have since 2007 adopted "muni-ID" programs on the premise that many of their residents - including undocumented immigrants, the homeless, and the indigent - lack the credentials needed to lead normal lives.

As 2014 begins, debate on these volatile issues is percolating in Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

"Imagine not having a valid form of ID, and the way you need it" to cash checks, rent apartments, and get utilities, said Desi Burnette of Fight for Drivers Licenses, a campaign to grant licenses to undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania.

The campaign supports legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses using individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs) in place of Social Security numbers.

Supporters say such programs promote public safety by encouraging all residents to pay taxes, maintain car insurance, open bank accounts, and feel more secure when reporting crimes to police and they are asked for ID.

"It is a huge step forward," said Nicole Kligerman, a community organizer with New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, which opposes deportations. "It acknowledges the contributions [undocumented immigrants] are already making. It allows people living off the grid, so to speak, to participate more fully."

"All of us in Pennsylvania who are undocumented need driver's licenses to get to and from work," said Maria Juarez Garcia, 37, who came to Philadelphia from Mexico nine years ago.

Locally issued IDs and driver's licenses do not confer permission to be in the United States. They do, supporters say, give marginalized people the photo card they need to enter their child's school, or to pass through a security desk when visiting a friend in the hospital.

Opponents say such proposals weave undocumented immigrants into the fabric of the community when they should be weeded out. Licenses, even if marked "driving only, not for use as ID," might be abused, they say.

Some critics say also they are a stealth path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

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