Should illegal farm workers get Vt driver's licenses?
MONTPELIER, Vt. -
This past September, Danilo Lopez says he was pulled out of a car for the color of his skin. He wasn't driving, but a Vermont State Police officer insisted he prove his citizenship. He couldn't.
"All of that led to the official calling Border Patrol and now I'm in deportation procedures," Lopez said.
Lopez says if he had a Vermont license none of this would've happened.
"We live in Vermont, we work in Vermont and we are isolated and depend on our bosses and friends to get our groceries and to go around," Lopez said.
Lopez and several migrant workers came to the Vermont Statehouse Wednesday, trying to change the law. They want the ability to drive to be separate from achieving citizenship, and they have the support of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
"Vermont has a long history of defending civil rights, especially for the people who live here and work here. So we have an opportunity to continue in that direction," Lopez said.
"This is a very complex bill. It covers a number of areas, not only driver's licenses, but also access to other state services," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said.
Flynn warns this bill could violate federal law. Vermont participates in the Real ID Act, a federal program that requires license holders to prove U.S. citizenship. Along with participation in the program comes federal funding-- something Vermont could lose if this passes.
"A lot of times federal programs are tied to compliance. We need to make sure if we do go down this road in some form that it is not going to jeopardize us and jeopardize the services we are able to provide," Flynn said.
Some 182 Vermont dairy farms employ Latino workers regardless of their citizenship. Lopez says they're trapped by their lack of identification, often unable to go to the store for fear of racial profiling. Lopez has a word for this feeling -- "esclavitud." It means slavery.
"We are keeping the dairy industry alive and deportation is not fair for us, so at Migrant Justice we are trying to change the rules of the game that target us," Lopez said.
Now, what's interesting is these workers could drive with Mexican driver's licenses if they were tourists, but the second you take a job in the United States you forfeit your "tourist rights" that would allow you to drive with a license from any other country for up to one year.
There are states that issue driver's licenses to people who are in the U.S. illegally. It's a law that's been passed in Washington, Utah and New Mexico. But even in those states where it's legal the issue has been highly controversial.
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