By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service
RICHMOND, Va. – Several thousand undocumented immigrants in Virginia could get driver’s licenses if a bill passed in the General Assembly this week becomes law.
Immigrants’ rights groups are hailing the move, which they say would make life easier for residents without legal status. Nayeli Montes is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico living in Petersburg who suffered life-altering consequences of not having a license.
During a pregnancy a few years ago, Montes says she was in severe pain and needed to get to a hospital fast. She finally found a friend who could drive her – but it was too late.
“By the time she takes me to the hospital, it was already past, like, two hours and a half,” says Montes. “By the time the doctor saw me, the doctors can do nothing for me, and I lost the baby.”
In a public statement in response to the legislation, Virginia Republican Party spokesperson John March said, “The United States needs to work on fixing the crisis at the southern border before we can start granting rights to non-citizens.”
But Virginia Democrats say driver’s licenses would make life less complicated for immigrant families, who also pay taxes, attend public schools and worship alongside other Virginians.
Jace Hatcher with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy points out that roads are safer when everyone driving is certified to do so. And studies have shown that letting undocumented immigrants drive legally also helps the economy.
“Allowing driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status may reduce insurance premiums for all drivers,” says Hatcher. “States may also have a modest revenue increase from growth in sales tax, licensing fees, vehicle registration fees. And newly licensed workers could fill job openings far from public transportation.”
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam supports the measure and is expected to sign it into law, which would go into effect on January 1, 2021. If so, Virginia would be following in the footsteps of 14 other states, including New York and New Jersey.