Will illegal workers be allowed Vt. driver's licenses?
MONTPELIER, Vt. -
They say after years of living in the shadows of Vermont's Green Mountains, it's time for the state to give them more privileges.
"We feel abandoned; we feel far from society," said Danilo Lopez, a migrant farmworker.
Dozens of farmworkers packed a Vermont Senate Transportation Committee hearing Thursday, as it wrangles over the idea to allow illegal migrant farmworkers to get Vermont driver's licenses. The farmworkers claim they often have to pay for rides to get necessities, visit family or even go to a doctor's appointment.
"Many times a simple illness can become more serious," Lopez said.
"I find it totally unacceptable in today's society that there are people that are treating people basically like slaves," said Sen. John Campbell, D-Vt. President Pro Tem.
There are an estimated 1,500 illegal migrant workers in the state. The bill would also allow other illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. The commissioner of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, Rob Ide, made it clear applicants would have to go through the exact same testing program as Vermonters do.
"Highway safety is very important to us, and we want to make sure there is no misperception that we would do anything to impact that highway safety," Ide said.
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn also supports the program, saying it would put more IDs in the hands of undocumented immigrants.
"We will be diligent to make sure there is validity to the documents, so we are issuing the license to the person we believe we are issuing it to," Flynn said.
Sen. Dick Mazza, the chair of the Transportation Committee, says it is still too early to say whether or not this controversial bill will move forward this year.
"Driver's licenses are not going to solve the whole problem," Mazza said.
Big questions still left unanswered include whether the licenses should look different, and whether they will they have restrictions. The licenses though would not be considered valid federal IDs.
"Drafting a bill like this is very important. We don't want to do it unless we have all the facts and information properly documented," said Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.
Migrant farmworkers feel after years of lobbying to be allowed to drive, this may finally be the year that the bill moves into the fast lane.
"Please help us pass a law that we can make a better Vermont for everybody," Lopez said.
Migrant farmworkers hoping their decades of hard work on the farm to give Vermont its identity will give them a new privilege.
Illinois, Washington and New Mexico have laws allowing undocumented workers to get licenses.
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