Undocumented immigrants fight for driver’s licenses in Pennsylvania

    A driver’s license would reduce a lot of her fear, said Lucy Marquez, an immigrant from Mexico who commutes to three separate schools in Philadelphia each morning to drop off her children.

    “I am fighting for a driver’s license because I am a mother of three children, said Marquez. “I need to take them to school each morning. If I have an accident or accidentally run a red light, I don’t want to be detained and taken away from them. I just want a legal ID so my kids won’t be afraid of the police every day.”

    Marquez is undocumented and is a member of La Alianza Pro Licencias, a coalition of immigrant rights groups and people of faith campaigning to make Pennsylvania the 12th state (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. As there is currently no pathway to citizenship or permanent status for these immigrants, supporters argue that drivers licenses would allow them to more fully and positively participate in society.

    Last year, Marquez needed to present a form of identification when she attempted to pay taxes alongside her husband at a local IRS office but was turned away.

    “I wanted to contribute, like everyone else contributes, to this country,” she said, “but they wouldn’t take payments from me or my husband. They said you can’t return until you have a legal identification. I felt powerless. I can be detained anytime for running a red light or getting in an accident. I can be taken away from my children, but I can’t even pay taxes.”

    Marquez’s husband is a construction worker and pays a licensed coworker for rides every week. Marquez said that if lawmakers allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, her family could use that money to save for her children’s college tuition.

    State Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) is attempting to reintroduce House Bill 1648, which died in the transportation committee in 2014. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants to submit a federal tax identification number or a combination of documents, such as a foreign passport or certificate of birth or marriage, to establish identity. Pennsylvania allowed immigrants to obtain licenses through such means before changing the law in 2002.

    Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Philadelphia) has introduced separate legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license distinct from the one currently used by residents of Pennsylvania. These licenses would be restricted for vehicle use only and could not be used as forms of legal identification.

    “It’s a form of racism and is not just,” said Marquez. “We don’t want drivers licenses that mark us as non-citizens. People wouldn’t apply for a marked license because they might think it could make them more easily deportable.”

    Opponents of the both pieces of legislation argue that permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses could lead to national security threats. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), said the government has no responsibility to change policy “to accommodate … people who have no right to be on our soil in the first place.” Rep. John Taylor (R-Philadelphia) and Rep. William Keller (D-Philadelphia), the chairmen of the House Transportation Committee, denied requests for an interview.

    “It would benefit the city and the state,” said Marquez. “The government would earn money by granting licenses to people, and people would feel more safe.”

    On June 18, the Lucha Pro Licencias coalition will hold statewide vigils supporting unmarked driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia, Reading, Pittsburgh, York, Harrisburg and Chambersburg.

    “We are gearing up for re-introducing the bill this month,” said Sheila Quintana, an organizer with the coalition. “We are at a strong place, with 20 co-sponsors and hopefully adding more in the near future. Migrant communities are organizing and fighting not only for their right to a driver’s license, but also for the recognition they deserve as human beings helping sustain Pennsylvania.”

    “We’ll win with the support of the community,” said Marquez. “There’s always obstacles, but we fight every day, knocking doors and seeking support. If the community is united, we can win. My children are citizens and will remember who supported us and who didn’t.”

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