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House bill providing Pa driver's license to undocumented aliens a political move

Advocates for immigration reform say undocumented workers drive undocumented workers will drive with or without
Advocates for immigration reform say undocumented workers drive undocumented workers will drive with or without
Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

As it was reported in Penn Live on May 28, a small group of undocumented workers protested in front of the Capitol building in Harrisburg in effort to get out the word to support legislation that would provide a Pennsylvania driver's license for undocumented immigrants. Prior to 2002, individuals residing in the state of Pennsylvania could use their federal tax ID number to apply for and receive a state driver's license. Sponsored by State Representative Mark Cohen, a Democrat representing Philadelphia, House Bill 1648 would allow state residents to once again use their federal tax ID number, a valid passport issued in their native country, or their birth certificate to apply for a driver's licence. The IRS defines an illegal alien or undocumented alien as a person "who has entered the United States illegally and is deportable if apprehended, or an alien who entered the United States legally but who has fallen 'out of status' and is deportable". Considering a person living in the country illegally does not have a Social Security number and may not even be paying taxes, providing a federal tax ID number may not be an option. In an article that appeared yesterday in Philly.com, the Pennsylvania Fight for Drivers' Licenses said that license sales would not only increase revenue but also make the roads safer from licensed and insured drivers. Advocates for the bill said that undocumented immigrants living in rural areas often need a vehicle to travel back and forth to their jobs and will continue to drive whether or not the legislation passes or not. They take the risk of being stopped by the police to be able to work and provide for their families.

Comments posted in response to the PennLive article reflect public outrage and a lack of support for the bill. One person said, "Giving people who have entered this country and remain here illegally a free pass is a slap in the face to everyone who has entered legally and waited for years to get their green cards. If the illegal aliens get to stay forever BEFORE the people who got in line, filled out endless forms and have continued to keep all of their paperwork current and in order while they wait and wait . . . we should all be outraged!!" Another person said, "Sure give them a license. Charge them $300.00 for it, put a big red ILEGAL stamp on it and then call ICE with their address information. Or just arrest them on the spot." Part of what fuels this outrage is the choice of words. Calling workers undocumented puts a glaze over the fact that these individuals are in the United States illegally, but referring to them as illegal aliens puts them in the same category as extraterrestrials adding to the bias they face in trying to assimilate to life in this country. Just the same, it is hard to want to support giving drivers privileges to individuals who publicly say they refuse to follow state laws. Having a driver's license will not necessarily prevent them from being deported, and there is no assurance that they will purchase car insurance just because they would have a legal license to drive.

If the Legislature were to change driver licensing laws, Pennsylvania would join seven other states that made it legal for undocumented aliens to drive. Advocates for immigration reform say that until U.S. Congress gets it together to change the laws that hold immigrants back from obtaining paperwork and documentation to stay in the states legally, that the burden is placed on the states and local governments to develop policies that help immigrants. Supporters say that the push for reform needs to start from the top with President Obama and work its way down not the other way around. An article published May 29 in The Washington Post indicated that it is unlikely that it is doubtful that Congress will address immigration reform until after they return from their summer recess. Meanwhile, there is no assistance on the horizon from the White House to address deportation policies to streamline legal immigration. At this point, it is doubtful that House Bill 1648 will do anything other than sit and collect dust. There are no plans to take the bill to a vote and there is no companion bill in the State Senate. In addition, Governor Corbett and the Republican-controlled House are not in support of changing driver's licensing laws to make it easier for people living in the state illegally to obtain without backing at the federal level.

On its face, a bill to help undocumented workers legally travel the roads to go to a job to earn money which supporters say would be reinvested back into the economy sounds like a win-win situation. If it were not for the fact that the word illegal hangs over the heads and the federal government still considers it a crime to be in the country without proper documentation, it might not be so much of a problem to provide driver's licenses to anyone who can pony up the filing fee and pass the test. What may not be as obvious is a more subtle reason some Congressional members want to see the bill passed and it has to do with one thing that every politician seeks- votes. A May 16 article in Newsworks reported that the Republican National Committee wants to target their outreach efforts to the estimated 35 to 40% of Hispanic voters who identify as holding conservative beliefs and political ideologies. A 2010 Pew Research study found that the Hispanic population in Pennsylvania is the 14th largest in the nation, 4% of the eligible voters are Hispanic, and that 49% of the Hispanic population in this state are eligible to vote. Cohen even acknowledged that he hopes the bill will be attractive to garner Republican support among House members looking to cultivate Hispanic voters. Although undocumented aliens are not eligible to vote, U.S. citizens and Pennsylvanians residing in the state legally can vote, and they are the people politicians seeking re-election want to court. Being aware that politics is often a controlling factor in most aspects in life is something to at the very least be aware of when making a choice between candidates at the polls at the next election in November.