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Bill advances to grant undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses

Legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to possess a driver’s license advanced in the this past week.

Capital News Service

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By Ada Romano

Legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to possess a driver’s license advanced in the Senate this past week.

Senate Bill 34, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would allow immigrants to obtain a driver’s license regardless of legal status. The applicant must prove they don’t have a social security or individual taxpayer identification number and submit a certified statement that their information is true. The bill had several amendments this legislative session.

House Bill 1211 introduced by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, is an identical bill that also extends these rights to undocumented immigrants. Tran introduced a similar bill that died in subcommittee last year. If approved, the bills will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Nayeli Montes said she came to the United States illegally from Mexico in 2005 for a chance at a better life. She worked 12-hour shifts at a restaurant back home earning the equivalent of $6.50 a day. Today, Montes is involved with the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, which lobbies lawmakers for immigrant rights.

Driver’s licenses can be required to obtain certain resources such as credit cards and car insurance. Currently, 13 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico provide driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. VACIR believes providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants will make roads safer because drivers will be educated, trained and tested. The three states that adopted these measures the earliest experienced a 30% decrease in traffic fatalities, compared to a nationwide 20 percent drop, according to The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, which studies issues affecting low-income residents.

The coalition said the bill will increase state revenue through vehicle registration, license plate fees, and title fees. According to The Commonwealth Institute, allowing undocumented immigrants to drive would produce between $11 million and $18 million in revenue from car registration fees, title fees, and license plate fees. The institute estimated that between 124,500 and 160,800 drivers would seek Virginia licenses within the first two years if immigration status was not a factor.

Humberto Rodriguez, the owner of a painting company and an immigrant from Mexico, said he came to the U.S. for better opportunities for him and his family. He said his son is the only person in his household who can legally drive and he would like for this privilege to be extended to all immigrants. His son is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient. DACA allows undocumented children who entered the U.S. before they turned 16 to work, attend college or university and obtain a driver’s license.

“I just want to make it clear that we came here to make a living for ourselves,” Rodriguez said. “Undocumented immigrants will go out and work no matter the weather conditions and we do our work with dignity.”

The House bill has received more support this year than last year, but one representative worries it may misrepresent an immigrant’s legal status.

Del. Terry L. Austin, R-Botetourt, said he voted against the House bill because the driver’s license that would be issued to an undocumented immigrant is identical to a citizen’s driver’s license and could misrepresent the legal status of an immigrant.

“I think we need to be very careful with this,” Austin said. “This could misrepresent an individual’s identity and could compromise safety in the United States.”

Undocumented immigrants also have concerns. They worry the DMV could potentially release their information to the federal government and that they could get arrested or deported. However, both bills state that an individual’s name won’t be released unless ordered by a court. Additionally, no photograph would be released to law enforcement or federal authorities unless a name or sufficient evidence was presented; the commissioner could still decline to release the photograph.

Tran also sponsored HB 1700 which limits the release of information such as proof documents, photographs of an individual and signatures from the DMV to government agencies. Additionally, the bill would prohibit a federal immigration law enforcement agency from accessing information stored by the DMV without a court order or warrant. A subcommittee shelved that bill Tuesday.

The fate of HB 1211 hasn’t been determined. The bill has been shuffled among House panels, with two recommendations, and is currently in an Appropriations subcommittee that meets next week.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Suspect Sought in Theft from Broad Street Building

It’s not stated by RPD but based on Tweets earlier this week we believe this is Mayor Stoney’s re-election headquarters.

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From RPD:

Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the individual in the attached photos who is suspected of stealing from a building on West Broad Street on Monday.

During the early morning hours on Monday, October 12, the suspect entered the building in the 2600 block of W. Broad Street and stole a large television from the common area. The suspect was last seen heading west on Broad Street with the TV.

Anyone with information about the identity of this suspect is asked to call Fourth Precinct Detective K.L.  Robinson at (804) 646-6820 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com.  The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used.  All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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Daily Planet Health Services holding supply drive through end of October

A full list of in-demand items is available on the nonprofit’s website, but among other things, the needs include generic freezer bags (quart and gallon in size); new men’s and women’s underwear, new or gently used t-shirts and socks; prepaid phone cards and prepackaged snacks.

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In advance of colder temperatures and the winter months, Daily Planet Health Services (DPHS) will hold a supply drive throughout the month of October. Supplies collected will be distributed directly to those experiencing homelessness and patients of the nonprofit’s Medical Respite and Safe Haven programs, which offer patients a place to recuperate, re-establish and reconnect – including homeless and veteran populations.

A full list of in-demand items is available on the nonprofit’s website, but among other things, the needs include generic freezer bags (quart and gallon in size); new men’s and women’s underwear, new or gently used t-shirts and socks; prepaid phone cards and prepackaged snacks.

“Traditionally, the summer and winter months are the most difficult for those experiencing homelessness to navigate, and this time of year will be further complicated because many of the resources traditionally utilized by this population have been affected by COVID-19,” said Taylor Garrett, outreach coordinator for Daily Planet Health Services. “Many of the creature comforts that we take for granted on a day-to-day basis are inaccessible for those experiencing homelessness, and these donations will make an impact right away.”

Donated items can be brought to the nonprofits 517 W Grace St Health Center M-F from Oct. 12-30 between the hours of 8 a.m.-5 p.m. In an effort to promote social distancing within the facility, those participating are encouraged to call 804-783-2505 to notify DPHS of the delivery, and a member of the team will come out to collect the items.

“In July and August, we were absolutely heartened by the generosity and support shown by the Richmond community, who turned out and supported our work to keep the homeless population nourished and hydrated during the hottest months of the year,” said Anita Bennett, acting CEO of Daily Planet Health Services. “We truly would not be able to succeed without the support of the Richmond community, and our hope is that those around the city will come together with the common goal of continuing to assist those in need.”

Individuals and families also are encouraged to take part in service projects, and a full list of opportunities is available on the nonprofit’s website. The projects were designed to help educate and engage those who want to help in a hands-on way, but have been prevented from doing so due to the pandemic. A range of options are available, which can be completed individuals, families or groups of students, church groups or offices.

If individuals would like to assist the DPHS in this effort, but are uncomfortable with purchasing items in-store and dropping them off at the health center, fiscal donations can be tagged with “Supply Drive” in the additional comments section of the online donation form under “Donate” at dailyplanetva.org, which will be used by the nonprofit to purchase resources off of the supply list.

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Black Lives Matter renews interest in Richmond’s Black culture and history

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped renew interest in Richmond’s African American culture and history, according to community leaders.

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By Cierra Parks

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped renew interest in Richmond’s African American culture and history, according to community leaders.

BLK RVA is an initiative launched in August 2019 between Richmond Region Tourism and 20 community leaders to highlight historic African American tourist attractions and engage visitors in events that support Richmond’s Black community. The group continues to promote Black-centered tourism in light of recent events. BLK RVA was recently awarded the Richmond Region Tourism Chairman’s Award in recognition of its contributions over the past year.

Tameka Jefferson, the community relations manager for Richmond Region Tourism and BLK RVA, said the Black Lives Matter movement has generated more interest in African American tourism, which she said is “long overdue.” Although Black Lives Matter began in 2013, the movement gained more support this year.

“Now is the time that we do need to come together as a community to support our businesses, to support our city and our region,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson also said that in the months following the death of George Floyd in police custody, she has seen more people visit the area around the Robert E. Lee statue. The area has been transformed into space used by the community for art, protest and memorial — and even basketball.

She said people are migrating to this area now that there has been a “staple of just coming together and a staple of community and uprising.”

BLK RVA’s mission is to illustrate that the Richmond region has evolved and is now a multicultural hub that specializes in four pillars: arts and entertainment, food and drink, community and history. She said the state capital is often seen through its outdated history–an outlook that needs to change.

In addition to African American-centered events and fundraisers, BLK RVA promotes the patronizing of what they call “rooted and rising” businesses; ones that have been around a while and others that are up and coming.

One established business is the Elegba Folklore Society, which was established 30 years ago. The Society hosts the annual Down Home Family Reunion and Juneteenth Freedom celebrations in addition to guided heritage tours along the Trail of Enslaved Africans and other historic sites. The trail details the history of slave trade from Africa to Virginia, following a route through the area’s former slave markets and also highlighting African American life leading up to the Civil War.

Omilade Janine Bell, president and artistic director of the Elegba Folklore Society, said the company prides itself on educating people because Black stories are often not fully told. She has noticed a renewed interest in learning about Black history in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Jefferson echoes that statement.

“His (George Floyd’s) loss-of-life story has opened the eyes of many whose eyes had been shut tightly before,” Bell said. “Now there is a heightened awareness among Black people and others about the lack of equity.”

Jaynell Pittman-Shaw owns Maple Bourbon, a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in Richmond’s downtown area that is one of BLK RVA’s “rising” businesses. Pittman-Shaw believes there is a new spotlight on inequity in the Black community.

“That is what people are protesting about right now: systemic and institutional racism,” Pittman-Shaw said. “Black business owners do not have access to the same resources that should be available to any business owner,” but black businesses need more support to thrive.

Jefferson said BLK RVA donated money from online merchandise sales to the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, which hosts a week-long event in the spring promoting black-owned food businesses. Over $15,000 was raised and distributed evenly among 35 Black Restaurant Week participants affected by COVID-19. Pittman- Shaw was one of the grantees. She plans to “pay it forward” by using the $500 grant she received to help another black-owned restaurant that did not participate in Black Restaurant Week.

Restaurants such as Big Herm’s Kitchen and Soul Taco used the money to help pay employees who were affected when COVID-19 restructured business.

The Richmond Black Restaurant Experience supports black, food-focused businesses, including restaurants, food trucks and catering services. They have raised nearly $50,000, surpassing their new goal of $25,000 according to the group’s GoFundMe page.

In addition to restaurants, other attractions have made adjustments since COVID-19 began. Many of them have migrated to virtual experiences. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture are offering virtual exhibits, including the All in Together collaborative project and Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality. The Elegba Folklore Society broadcast its Juneteenth celebration on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

The organization also recently promoted the Black is Beautiful beer initiative, a nationwide collaboration created by Marcus J. Baskerville, head brewer and co-owner at Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio. Over 30 Virginia craft breweries participated to support people of color and raise funds for police reform and legal defense. Richmond breweries put their spin on the traditional imperial stout recipe to raise money for the Black is Beautiful cause. The Answer, Hardywood, The Veil and Lickinghole Creek were among the Richmond-area breweries that created stouts for the initiative. Each brewery will donate the proceeds to organizations that support the Black is Beautiful cause.

BLK RVA has also highlighted events such as the RVA Black Farmers Market, the Richmond Night Market and events hosted by UnlockingRVA.

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