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Advocates March to State Capitol For Immigrant Driver Privileges

Immigrant advocates march to State Capitol

Report by VPM intern Alan Rodriguez Espinoza - Immigrant rights advocates held a demonstration in front of the Virginia State Capitol Saturday to voice support for legislation that would extend driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. 

The gathering marked the conclusion of a seven day march of about 50 people that began in Virginia Beach and ended in Richmond. The marchers were led by Edgar Lara, director of community engagement for the non-profit Sin Barreras.

“This is something that makes sense for Virginia,” Lara said. “People will still have problems but this allows people to live with a little bit of peace and it doesn’t set people to fail as much.”

Undocumented immigrants currently do not qualify for a driver’s license. Under certain circumstances, some legal immigrants are also barred from obtaining driving privileges. State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, has proposed a bill for the 5th year in a row to extend driving rights to more immigrants.

“I’ve put in a bill that basically says that if you can show you’re a Virginia resident and that you’ve paid taxes in Virginia for three years and you’ve passed the Virginia driving test,” Surovell said. “You’ll get a one year driving permit that would allow you to drive legally in Virginia, and it would apply to you regardless of your immigration status.”

For Salvadoran refugee Ana, access to a driver’s license would be “very life changing.”

“I have three little grandchildren,” Ana said. “I have to take them to school and bring them from school, so it’s very necessary to have a license.”

Ana works in Washington D.C. and lives in Arlington, Virginia. She said it takes her three bus rides to get to work over the course of two and a half hours, whereas with a driver’s license she could get to work in a half hour. Lara said the threats of not having a valid driver’s license can often be worse than a long commute to work.“Getting a ticket for no license,” he said. “It’s the first step toward possible detainment, separation from your family.”

Surovell said his bill has faced opposition due to concerns about the potential falsification of identification documents, and complaints that granting undocumented immigrants driver’s permits would validate illegal conduct.

“The reality is that a lot of my Republican colleagues,” Sourvell said. “Although they acknowledge that this would be a good idea, it would raise lots of tax revenue, it would make our streets safer, it would make people more comfortable reporting for the police, that internal Republican party politics just make it very difficult for them to vote for a bill like this.”

The march and demonstration were organized by the advocacy coalition Drive Virginia Forward in collaboration with Sin Barreras and the Virginia Interfaith Center. 

If passed, Surovell’s bill would take effect in July 2020.