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.
Downtown Rush Hour During COVID-19
Just a few shots from downtown at 8 AM on a Friday but most definitely not a normal Friday.
Old Dominion Energy Building to Tumble Down on May 30th
And the walls will come tumbling down.
Dominion Energy built a fancy new tower at 600 Canal Place. They’ve been slowing chipping away at the old building creatively labeled, One James River Plaza, located just across the street. Chipping away isn’t going to work for the entirety of the 21 story building.
The big show will be on May 30th when the office building will be imploded and it’ll come tumbling down.
The exact timing is unknown but it will be in the early morning hours and at least a one block are exclusion zone will be set-up.
Once the building is down and the area cleared the plans call for a new Dominion Energy building that would a mere 17 floors and connected with a skybridge. Those plans are not finalized at this point. For perspective, the new building at 600 Canal Place is 20 stories.
GRTC bans unaccompanied minors, joyriding on buses during coronavirus outbreak
Minors going to/from work permitted to ride; all passengers are limited to a single one-way trip at a time; “joyriding” prohibited.
Effective immediately, GRTC is banning unaccompanied minors from riding GRTC during the COVID-19 emergency. Solo minors in work uniforms or with their employee badges are permitted to ride GRTC to/from work. Until further notice, customers are not allowed to remain on-board a single bus beyond their one-way trip. No extended rides on a single vehicle will be allowed.
With the closure of schools and recent pleasant Spring weather, GRTC is experiencing an increase in riders – especially minors – riding GRTC in groups and for nonessential trips, counter to local, state, and federal guidance to limit travel only for essential purposes.
GRTC Chief Executive Officer Julie Timm says, “Immediately after suspending fares, our ridership jumped by several thousand trips a day. Some were kids out of school with energy to burn and some were people wanting to enjoy the beautiful Spring weather. But some were budget-conscious people looking for employment, making trips to the grocery store, or going to the doctor. While overall daily ridership is still well below normal levels, we need to take additional measures for those who desperately need our service during this crisis.”
In addition to limited trips and restricted rides for minors and groups, passengers are asked to sit one passenger per row, except for families riding together. Passengers in violation of these temporary policies or otherwise disruptive to our service are subject to removal from the bus. Timm explains, “While it’s completely counter to our normal lives to beg people not to ride, that is exactly what we are doing. Serving the community’s very real and very essential mobility needs during this crisis is a juggling act. Please, save our service for those who need our service!”