The state Transportation Committee declared dead on Monday a bill that would prevent undocumented residents in Connecticut from obtaining driver’s licenses.
HB 5180 would have revoked a 2013 statute that allows undocumented residents to receive a Drive Only license, which can be used as identification in the state. Lawrence Cook, spokesman for the state Transportation Committee’s Co-Chairman state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said the committee’s leaders decided in a meeting Monday not to proceed with the bill. It had a public hearing, he said, but will not receive a committee vote to move forward.
The bill drew widespread condemnation, including denouncements from New Haven activist groups and Mayor Toni Harp, for targeting the state’s more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants. In a Feb. 22 letter, Harp also wrote that the licenses help diminish residents’ fear when interacting with police officers. The licenses also increase access to driver training, according to Harp.
John Lugo, an organizer at the local immigrants’ rights group Unidad Latina en Acción, encouraged the group’s members to testify against the bill at its public hearing in Hartford on Feb. 22.
Makayla Haussler ’19, legislative coordinator of the Yale College Democrats, submitted public testimony against the bill. She said she learned about it through her work with Connecticut Students for a Dream, a statewide immigrants rights group.
Haussler said the bill would have had a devastating effect on undocumented residents. Allowing undocumented residents to have licenses would allow them to participate in the workforce, take their children to school and run errands like other residents, she pointed out.
ULA member and Meridian resident Daniel Barrales told the News the bill would have taken away several aspects of his livelihood, including his ability to find work, identify himself to the police and be identified by the police in the event of an accident.
“[My license] gives me the opportunity to drive safely, but also, it gave me identity because without the document from Connecticut, we are nobody,” he said.
State Rep. Robert Sampson, R-Southington, and Walcott, HB5180’s sponsor, said he voted against the statute in 2013 and has introduced a bill to repeal it in each session since. He told the News that the statute is bad policy as it “[attracts] the illegal alien population” to Connecticut.
Sampson said he is in favor of improving the country’s legal immigration process and increasing the number of legal immigrants in the United States, but he worries that a select few dangerous criminals will be able to enter the state if immigrants coming into the state do not undergo proper screening processes.
“I think that people that are here illegally ought to obtain the paperwork to be in the country legally, or they should leave,” he said. “The federal government needs to adopt a policy to know who is in the country and either grant them amnesty or deport them.”
State Rep. Angel Arce, D-Hartford, a vice chair of the Transportation Committee, said he was disappointed that the bill was ever proposed. Allowing undocumented residents’ access to driver’s licenses improves road safety by encouraging them to properly register their cars and become properly certified to drive, he said. Arce added that the licenses are also a good tool for law enforcement as it allows them to more easily identify those operating automobiles.
The written test for the Drive Only license is administered in at least six languages, including English and Spanish.