“We are not just nomads looking for benefits.”
That’s what Jose Chacon, an undocumented immigrant living in Rhode Island, said to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, in support of H6174, which proposes giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
“It’s just a human thing to do,” he said.
In its current state, the bill allows undocumented immigrants a valid Rhode Island driver’s license if they can provide documents that reliably establish their name, date of birth, place of birth, and Rhode Island residency, among other pieces of information. Those who are under 18 are still required to undergo driving education.
Representative Anastasia Williams (D-District 9), the primary sponsor of the bill, in her testimony, said the bill has been a long time coming.
“I do believe we are going to come to a crossroad where we address the issues before us,” she said. One of those issues, according to Williams, is safety. If illegal immigrants are granted driver’s licenses, then they will have further access to auto registration and insurance, should they get into a car accident.
“It’s about responsibility, accountability, and a duty,” Williams said, citing that it is state legislature’s duty to ensure that everyone is as safe as possible on the road. “It is time for us to do our due diligence to make sure that these individuals on the road have the proper documentation,” she said.
When asked who would pay for these licenses, Williams responded that the process would operate much like the processes for giving a license to a US citizen.
“Time and resources is something that this General Assembly puts forth for many other things,” she said. “We are not giving out free licenses. These individuals will have to pay for them just like you and I.”
Even with supporters like Chacon, many of which attended the hearing, H6174 still has its fair share of opposition. Terry Gorman, the president of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, came to testify against the legislation. Gorman found many parts of the bill to be unclear, and even called H6174 an “illegal aliens benefit act.”
“Passing this bill would in effect hold all of you in violation of 8 USC 1324, which prohibits aiding and abetting illegal aliens,” he said. “People said they’re doing it anyway, they’re going to continue doing it. There are child molesters, wife beaters, and bank robbers, doing crimes. Should we just ‘Oh they’re doing it anyway, they’re going to continue doing it?’”
Gorman’s main objection to the bill was that many of the documents that undocumented immigrants would be asked to provide are not valid forms of government identification.
“That needs some sort of clarification as to who is going to verify that information, and what the cost will be to verify it,” he said.
Currently, H6174 is subject to amendment, but one that has caused some controversy is whether or not undocumented immigrants applying for a driver’s license would be required to submit to a national criminal background check. A major concern is whether or not such information would make its way to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“If you do have a national criminal record check, innocent people will be fearful, and understandably so,” said Steven Brown of the Rhode Island ACLU. Brown mentioned that the state Senate version of this bill has an explicit confidentiality provision that prevents the sharing of illegal immigrant’s information without issuing a subpoena.
“I don’t believe that particular provision is in this bill, and we would encourage that it be added,” he said. “We would encourage the committee, in considering this bill, to reject that option, because of its consequences.”