Immigrants defend right to drive in Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, March 20.WW photo: Joseph Piette

March 20.
WW photo: Joseph Piette

During a public hearing on March 20 on the reform of the driving-license law for undocumented people in Pennsylvania, people told their moving stories about the impact of not having drivers’ licenses before a room full of immigrants and their close supporters.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives members Leslie Acosta and Mark B. Cohen heard depositions from lawyers, migrant organizations, religious figures and undocumented victims to consider an amendment to Act HR 1648.

The undocumented immigrant workers form an invisible sector of the U.S. working class that performs the most basic tasks, without which the rest of society could not live. Not only are their jobs invisible, but also their identities. Without personal documents, without their own Social Security numbers and without any official identification, they must negotiate an obstacle course that would daunt any U.S. citizen. And they must do this to support their families, a fundamental human right.

In the end, Acosta and Cohen thanked them for the depositions, admitting that the stories “opened their eyes” and promising they will do everything possible to push the legislation because it is “a matter of civil rights.”

What were these stories?

In the first panel, attorney Don W. Pak spoke of the great economic benefits for the United States if these licenses were granted. In brief, the economy would gain $1.75 billion in five years if the 10 million undocumented people could pay the $35 for a driver’s license and renew it annually. In addition, another $15 billion would come from paying insurance, buying cars, etc., which would in turn open up jobs. He contrasted this with what the government spent on the bailout of General Motors: $50 billion in 2009.

Immigration attorney Djung Tran stressed the vulnerability of these unlicensed drivers, who cannot obtain urgently needed medical care when victim of a car accident.

Érika Almirón, director of the immigrant organization Juntos, stressed the link between driving without a license and deportations. She added that specially marked licenses are no solution.

With a lump in his throat, Guatemalan Esvin Maldonado told about his difficulties and those of many of the 13,000 undocumented people in Franklin County, Pa., in his case having to go to work at 2:30 a.m. The lack of public transportation requires them to drive without a license. This led to his 18-year-old son being deported, illustrating the great problem caused by the separation of families.

Celia Mota of the New Sanctuary Movement told how after her husband, who is a U.S. citizen, hurt his back, she had to drive without a license to take him to medical appointments, transport their children to school and deliver the clothes she makes, the basis for supporting the family.

María Serna, a Colombian immigrant who started the fight for licenses for immigrants six years ago in Philadelphia following a personal experience, told Workers World-Mundo Obrero, “The importance of this struggle lies in demanding justice for immigrant communities from those who deny us each day the right to an identity; to deny that we exist as human beings because we have no document to prove our existence. This makes us invisible to the society to which we belong and contribute.”