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AUSTIN, Texas – One of the most influential business groups in Texas has announced its support for providing undocumented immigrants an opportunity to obtain a state driver’s license.

The Texas Association of Business (TAB) also wants to see the retention of in-state tuition rates for undocumented students attending college or university.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business.

On Wednesday, TAB President Bill Hammond, spoke at a rally on the south steps of the state Capitol hosted by the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance. Afterwards he gave an interview to the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We support allowing undocumented residents to obtain a driver’s license based on no-criminal record, the usual requirements,” Hammond said. “It makes no sense to have all these people driving around without a driver’s license, which means they have no insurance. You cannot get insurance without a driver’s license. If we want to have more people insured we need to allow them (undocumented immigrants) to have driver’s licenses. It is seen as somehow a favor to the undocumented but it just makes good common sense.”

State Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, spoke at RITA’s immigrant rights rally. In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian afterwards, Nevárez said it was good to have influential business leaders like Hammond speak at the rally.

“Bill Hammond is exactly right. I could not have put it any better myself. This is an economic necessity. Those people who do not have the social will to pass legislation because socially they can’t tolerate it – I think that is morally reprehensible. From an economic standpoint it makes sense,” Nevárez said.

“Bill Hammond deserves attention. Those are economic realities. For anybody to say otherwise… let’s look at this from an economic standpoint. It (driver’s licenses for the undocumented) benefits the insurance industry. It benefits the ability to buy vehicles. There are so many things it does economically. It also imbues a sense of community.”

Until a few years ago undocumented immigrants could get auto insurance. But, the Legislature stopped it, arguing that it encouraged undocumented immigration. This legislative session, state Sens. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, have filed Senate Bill 132. It creates a Texas resident driver’s permit that undocumented residents can obtain, not a driver’s license. García and Rodríguez spoke at the RITA rally.

In a news release the three senators say the bill will allow access to driver’s permits regardless of immigration status as well as promote safety and accountability. “Ensuring that all drivers are driving legally and insured supports broader public safety goals such as increasing the likelihood that drivers know state traffic rules,” the news release states. “Many immigrants, including undocumented persons, are working in Texas and continue to drive to work to provide for their families and other day-to-day activities.”

On the issue of in-state tuition for undocumented students, Hammond said: “We just think in-state tuition is the right thing to do because we have spent literally $100,000 educating these kids and for them to be successful in life they need to go beyond high school. If we go back to out of state tuition for them it will be a no-go for most of them – they simply won’t be able to afford it and won’t go. They will be stuck in low-level jobs when we are experiencing an enormous skills gap across the board.”

Some Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, want to abolish the law that allows undocumented students the opportunity to go to college an in-state tuition rate. UT-Rio Grande Valley, which will probably have the most undocumented students in the state when it opens its doors later this year, has said it will push to keep the current law in place.

Hammond said he, personally, is working “very hard” on the in-state issue. “I think we have a chance. I just think it is important, the message we send to our young people and the message we send to the world – is Texas the Friendship State or not?”

Rep. Nevárez said opponents of in-state tuition for undocumented students do not have a good grasp of what the current law is.

“There is a fallacy. People think these kids do not pay any tuition, that they should pay what I pay. You know, my wife is a permanent resident. One of the bills that has been filed would not allow her to get in-state tuition because she is not, quote, unquote, an American citizen. She would not be allowed to pay in-state tuition. That is ridiculous. She has lived here for 13 years as my wife so people do not see that. I think there is a lot of ignorance about the type of immigration we have in this state and we need to combat that ignorance at a very basic level.”