ALTON, March 17 - It is not often the business community and immigrant rights groups agree on things but they have come together to support legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity to get a driver’s license.
House Bill 3206, authored by state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, would require all Texas residents, irrespective of their immigrant status, to apply for a license to operate a motor vehicle on Texas streets and highways. It is estimated that two million people in Texas drive without a driver’s license or liability insurance.
Alonzo’s bill is supported equally by La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), which works for colonia residents and immigrant families throughout Hidalgo County, and Texans for Sensible Immigration Policy, a pro-business group founded to defeat Arizona-style legislation.
“HB3206 would require all Texas residents, without regard to their immigration status, to apply for a license to operate a motor vehicle on the streets and highways of our state,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE. “That would assure that all drivers have demonstrated their understanding of Texas traffic laws. Our streets and roads would be safer as a result.”
Valdez-Cox pointed out that LUPE’s 2012 Cumbre de Colonias conference adopted a strong resolution urging action on the topic of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Martha Sanchez, LUPE’s Organizing Coordinator said people in the rural areas of Texas have to drive. “Public transportation in the Rio Grande Valley is not sufficient to allow people to get to work or to school or to the grocery store or to the doctor’s office. The only way to survive is to drive. Rep. Alonzo’s bill would go a long way toward making life better and safer for all Texas residents, and that is why we support its passage,” Sanchez said.
Norman Adams, co-founder of Texans for Sensible Immigration Policy, agreed with LUPE’s assessment of Alonzo’s bill.
“We know we have at least two million people in Texas driving without a license. And, we know they are going to drive. We should be requiring them to take a driving test and have a driver’s license so that they could at least buy liability insurance. As it is today we will not even allow them to take a test,” Adams said.
“It is like refusing inoculations to the children of immigrants for communicable diseases. This is just self-defense and it is common sense.”
Adams said Texas employers who have complied with the Department of Labor’s I-9 laws can easily have a heavy truck driver with a perfect driving record. If the trusted employed driver is not allowed to renew his driver license and then has a catastrophic accident, it is likely his employer's liability insurance company will refuse to reimburse punitive damages, and thus the whole company is at risk, he explained.
It might seem like common sense to make every driver get a driver’s license. The Guardian asked Adams how it came to be that undocumented immigrants cannot get one.
Adams said it all started with controversial rules adopted by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Since 1998, DPS has progressively restricted the list of acceptable documents to prove identity. Apart from Canadian applicants, many applicants whose proof of identity is an identity document issued by a foreign government are now excluded from obtaining a driver’s license.
DPS’s stance was codified in Senate Bill 9, authored last session by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. The Texas House of Representatives rejected SB 9 in the regular session of 2011, so in that year’s special session, Williams stuck it on to Senate Bill 1, a must-pass piece of legislation dealing with education finance. The Senate stuck SB 9 onto SB 1 at the very end of the special session and then adjourned sine die. The House was left with no alternative but to accept the bill, Adams said.
“There was no opportunity for a conference committee. It was a take it or leave it deal. Republicans were called in by Speaker Straus. He told them, I understand you do not like this part of it but we have got to pass education finance or tomorrow morning the Governor is going to call a special session and we are going to be blamed for it. So, they came back in and they passed it,” Adams said.
“It codified what had been a bad rule since 2009 in the Department of Public Safety. In my opinion, it was the only thing on immigration the legislature did wrong last session. Everything else, they did right.”
Adams said restricting undocumented immigrants from getting a driver’s license legislation was the only Arizona-style bill that passed in 2011. “We defeated 108 Arizona-style bills including sanctuary cities and mandatory e-verify. They all went down in flames,” Adams said, proudly.
Adams said he hopes legislators will listen to the voice of the business community when considering Alonzo’s bill. “Hopefully, we will get all the law enforcement agencies on board supporting this and all the chambers of commerce. The Texas Association of Business has endorsed the bill and so have the builders and contractors. I expect to have the Greater Houston Partnership on board also.”
Asked what the chances of success are with HB 3206, Adams said: “Everybody told me last session that we had to have e-Verify and we had to have Sanctuary Cities and we beat them. With the help of the people, and the business community and the Good Lord we are going to win this one,” Adams said. “The Department of Public Safety’s driver’s license program is not supposed to be set up to enforce federal immigration laws. It is supposed to be to make sure you can drive and you are properly licensed.”
Alonzo, D-Dallas, the author of HB 3206, said: “It does not make business or economic sense that undocumented immigrants cannot legally get their driver's license or even get their vehicles insured because of current laws prohibit them from doing so. House Bill 3206 would address that issue by permitting them to get their driver's license and proper vehicle insurance if they can show proof that they are in compliance with all federal immigration laws.”