Immigrants gain path to driver’s licenses

Last Sunday, 439 people gathered at St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven to celebrate what could be a breakthrough year for undocumented workers in Connecticut.

The crowd praised the first milestone this year for immigrants — that undocumented youth protected under President Obama’s executive order DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, can now obtain legal driver’s licenses in Connecticut. State leaders also announced their plan to introduce a bill this session allowing all undocumented workers in Connecticut to acquire driver’s licenses.

The Sunday gathering was run by CONECT, or Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut, which is composed of 25 different congregations across the state that advocate for social and economic justice, according to the group’s website. It was attended by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and three state senators including Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who is hopeful that the bill will pass this year.

“It’s a realistic possibility,” said Father James Manship, the co-chair of CONECT and the pastor at St. Rose of Lima, when asked if he believes undocumented workers could attain driver’s licenses in Connecticut this year. “We’ve done an awful lot of grassroots work on this, and I just think the time has arrived.”

Looney agreed that this year presents an opportunity for the bill to pass, but added that it will be controversial since those who have traditionally fought new immigration legislation will likely oppose this bill.

Diana Enriquez ’13, former moderator of MEChA, a Yale student organization that promotes Latino political activism, said she suspects this legislation will be difficult to pass given the contentious national debate on immigration. She added that if the legislation were being considered in isolation in Connecticut, it may be easier to pass since the state has traditionally supported progressive immigration policies. Enriquez also pointed out that licenses do more than allow a person to drive — they provide identification and allow individuals to open bank accounts.

Despite the certain political resistance, Manship believes that because undocumented youth have been given the opportunity to have a license, it is logical that their parents and others in the community will soon share the same benefit.

CONECT estimates that 54,000 people statewide who need licenses in order to drive to work, drive their children to school or attend medical appointments cannot legally obtain them. Some who attended the gathering at St. Rose of Lima shared their personal stories of hardships caused by the inability to obtain a legal driver’s license, citing steep fines and anxiety that roadside accidents could spell extreme economic loss or deportation.

Looney noted that since many undocumented workers will drive regardless of whether they have a license, regulating the process will help drivers become properly trained, licensed, registered and insured, which will make the roads safer.

Illinois, Washington and New Mexico are the only states that currently allow undocumented workers to apply for driver’s licenses.

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