“In June of last year, when the candidates were running for governor, we got a promise from all the candidates, including Gina Raimondo, that she would sign an executive order granting driver’s licenses to undocumented people in Rhode Island within the first year of office,” said Juan Garcia, from the Comité de Inmigrantes en Acción.
Garcia was speaking at a State House press conference organized by Todos Somos Arizona, (We Are All Arizona) coalition, a group that supports immigrant rights. Since the Paris attacks last Friday, say organizers, “we have seen a surge in xenophobic messages and remarks made by politicians and the media against refugees and immigrants across Europe and the United States, including Rhode Island.”
Garcia said, “We just want to send a message, especially with everything that has happened in Paris with the terrorist attacks. The people standing behind me are not terrorists. We are human beings, and what better way to promote safety in Rhode Island than to give everybody a driver’s license?”
The coalition argues that this is a human rights issues and that, “driver’s licenses for all residents of Rhode Island would mean safer roads for everyone… Parents need driver’s licenses to drive their children (many of whom are US citizens) to school, doctor’s appointments, and to get to work. They shouldn’t have to live in fear everyday simply to provide for their families.”
“We do not want to be criminalized,” said Heiny Maldonado, director of Fuerza Laboral, “We only want to be recognized for the people that we are.”
José has been in the country in since 2000 and has been driving without a license since 2009. “It’s a safety issue,” he said, “I drive in fear, looking through my rear view mirror… I work a lot, I drive a lot and I need to provide for my loved ones.”
Veronica, speaking on behalf of Inglés en Acción / English for Action (EFA), said that she was speaking for undocumented parents who need to meet with teachers, meet with doctors and need to attend English language classes. They are, says Veronica, “afraid that they can’t get somewhere because they don’t have licenses.”
A dozen states, including Illinois, Vermont, California, New Jersey and Connecticut, have already passed legislation to provide licenses for all of their residents, regardless of immigration status. “We demand that Speaker [Nicholas] Mattiello support the governor, and not block this action,” said Garcia.
So far, Governor Raimondo has failed to keep her campaign promise and sign the executive order. In response to a query, the Governor’s office replied, “The Governor supports providing licenses for undocumented Rhode Island residents and remains committed to pursuing a solution. She has a team across state agencies working on this, but no decisions have been made on timing or process at this time.”
The Todos Somos Arizona coalition includes English for Action (EFA), Olneyville Neighborhood Association (ONA), Jobs with Justice, SIEU, Fuerza Laboral, Comité de Inmigrantes en Acción / Immigrant Action Committee and the American Friends Service Committee.