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It’s Time for Pennsylvania Lawmakers to Pass a Bill Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Apply for Driver’s Licenses

This would bolster the economy, improve public safety, strengthen communities, and is just the humane thing to do, advocates argue.
Photo courtesy of Driving PA Forward.

The Shapiro administration said earlier this month it supports giving non-citizens driver’s licenses.

Eighteen states, including neighboring Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York already do so. Pennsylvania Democrats actually introduced House Bill 769 to remedy this issue, but it has been languishing in the Transportation Committee.

Luis Larin, Driving PA Forward Coalition Coordinator, said the coalition has been organizing communities in the state around this issue for several years. 

“As a result, we have been able to have more conversations with leadership on both sides and in both parties about the importance of this deal and why this is good for Pennsylvania,” he said. “We have been able to capture the attention of leadership on both sides and with those in the community.”

Larin said they are just waiting to see if that support translates to actions needed to get this deal passed.

Driving PA Forward expects to do a lot of education – not just with the legislators, but also with the public – to understand the importance of people being able to obtain driver licenses regardless of immigration status. 

Larin said it’s important for the undocumented to know their importance in the community, to “understand what role they play, and more importantly, to understand that it’s not (just) an undocumented – it’s a human being at the end of the day that we’re talking about – part of a larger family, a larger community in the state of Pennsylvania.”

The coalition believes this bill passing is for the best of everyone in PA for safety and for economic reasons. “Studies that we have seen in other states show that when you have less uninsured drivers on the road, insurance policies go down for everyone because now the insurance doesn’t have to count for uninsured drivers on the road,” said Larin. 

READ: How U.S. Policy Drives Child Migrants Into Dangerous Jobs

Larin noted the economic benefit of additional fees that people will need to pay to get a driver’s license. The Keystone Economic Policy Center found that the cost of extending access to the undocumented will bring in more revenue for the state. 

More people will buy cars and more gas because more people have access to them. 

Once the risk doesn’t exist, then undocumented people will be driving. “After they pass the test, after they learn the rules and after they get the insurance, then more people will be injecting resources through the economy as a result,” he said. 

The biggest benefit that the coalition sees directly for the undocumented community is to keep their families together.  

Most of these families are mixed status families. 

“So maybe one person is undocumented; maybe the parents are undocumented, but not the kids,” said Larin. “Maybe one of the parents is undocumented and one of the parents is a U.S. born person.” 

When undocumented drive without a license and they get pulled over for a headlight or a broken brake light or from a traffic stop, they will be detained and Larin said that’s the end. 

If this person is the main source of income for the family, this presents a problem. “Let’s say there is another parent at home with two kids; now this parent will need to figure out how to eat and figure out how to go about that life,” said Larin. “Now this parent will need to go and work instead of stay with the kids.” 

Maritza Gonzalez, board member with Immigrant Rights Action, said their nonprofit supports licenses for all in Pennsylvania. 

READ: How Immigrant Rights Action Is Serving Bucks County’s Immigrant Community

A lot of the families, unfortunately, drive without licenses and they get stopped. “Let’s say they got a ticket for rolling over a stop sign,” she said. “That ticket that was supposed to be maybe $150 is now $400 because the ticket is for no license (it varies from county to county, but that’s usually a $200 ticket for no license).”

Undocumented immigrants are part of this community – people who kept businesses open and functioning during COVID-19.  

For many undocumented families, unfortunately, Gonzalez said there already is an economic strain. Add to that the issue of not being able to take kids where they need to go. 

“Sometimes it’s very hard for a community member to even take them to the hospital,” she said. “Say that their kid has a chronic disease such as asthma and driving to Philadelphia, there’s a big chance of getting in a car accident or being pulled over by the police just to take your child to a healthcare provider.” 

These members of the community hold jobs that usually are paid less than or at least minimum wage which is $7.25. “But with today’s prices, that’s barely income to be able to stay in a household,” said Gonzalez. “And some community members have to find a second or even a third job to pay for housing and food, but now additional bills that come from having a ticket.”

This problem in their community could be easily solved by having a license if the government at the state level allows this to happen. 

READ: We Need Your Outrage! Biden’s Asylum Ban Is Unjust and Inhumane

Gonzalez’s husband is a waiter and doesn’t have a driver’s license. She said they tried to Uber him back and forth to work every single day, “but his work is so far out that was adding $56 one way, another $46 home. That’s almost $100 right there.” 

Sometimes on a good day, he makes $150, but just using Uber, it’s taking $100 out of that. 

Gonzalez said also for identification purposes, it’s easier to replace the driver’s license than it is to get a new passport. She said many people from Guatemala, for example, have to travel to the Consulate which is in New York City. “If that’s the only type of ID and they lose it, it’s not only (an issue of) how are they going to get there, but also an additional $300 to get a passport.” 

“There’s just so many things that our community has to do as an extra step, just because we don’t have a formal state ID and a license, something that can easily be fixed if hopefully our state reps get together and talk about this issue,” she said. “It’ll be beneficial to the state because it’ll bring more income as well.”

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Picture of Erin Flynn Jay

Erin Flynn Jay

Erin Flynn Jay is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. Recent national writing includes First for Women, Woman's World Magazine, Bar & Restaurant News, and World Tea News.

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