By Madelyn Colon
CTLatinoNews.com Political Columnist
With legislators and the Governor’s office scrambling to make cuts and look for new revenue sources in order to balance the state budget, one wonders why the state is losing out on millions of revenue it could collect from an estimated 50,000 unlicensed drivers who are also undocumented and should be paying fees to get a driver’s license and register a car.
Under current state law, undocumented immigrants can’t apply for a driver’s license.
State Rep. Juan R. Candelaria, chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus, wants to change that. Candelaria, who represents New Haven’s 95th district, has introduced legislation (H.B. 6037) to allow all undocumented immigrants who drive without a license the ability to apply for and legally obtain one.
This is an important issue for so many reasons.
First, safety. These drivers face serious repercussions if they are caught or get involved in an accident, including financial ruin and deportation. They drive on state roads with a sense of dread, knowing they are not complying with the law, but they have little choice if they want to get to work or take their children to school. For those who may not have received adequate driver education in the first place, they pose a public safety risk.
The Rev. James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven, and co-chair of Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut, a non-partisan coalition of interfaith churches, says, “St. Rose has parishioners from 18 different countries that worship here. In community meetings after church where we gather to identify what they are most concerned about, driver’s licenses is the number one issue. We have heard horror stories about mothers with sick children having seizures in the back seat, being afraid to pull over for fear of being stopped and asked for a driver’s license, and of immigrants losing their cars because they arranged for someone else to register them. It makes life very difficult for these hard working people.”
Then there is of course the revenue the state is losing. In 2012, $43.6 million was collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles for driver licensees and $190 million for car registration fees. The money supports the construction and maintenance of our highways and roads. Undocumented unlicensed drivers are not paying their fair share of this although they contribute to the economic activity in our state in other ways. A state survey by the non-partisan research organization Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy reports in Connecticut undocumented families already pay about $14 million in personal income taxes, $31 million in property taxes and $75 million in sales taxes.
A legal license also opens other doors to contributing to our state. It serves as a valid form of identification for obtaining credit, opening up a bank account and is another way that undocumented drivers can demonstrate they are responsible. It’s also one other component of a deliberate approach to immigration reform that other states are following. Illinois, Washington, and New Mexico and 17 other states also offer undocumented drivers some license protections, especially if they have a work permit that authorizes them to be in the state.
In Connecticut, younger undocumented immigrants, who arrived here before the age of 16 and are under 31 years of age, and who meet other criteria for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) approved by the Obama administration in 2012, are already allowed to apply for a driver’s license in Connecticut. The license can be used to only drive in the state and cannot be used for federal identification purposes. It coincides with the deferment period under DACA that is revisited after two years. As many as 6,670 undocumented individuals who live in Connecticut and are between 15-30 years old may be eligible to apply.
State Rep. Edwin Vargas (D-4th), who supports the legislation, believes, “The bottom line is that Connecticut lawmakers should recognize this as a practical solution on a couple of fronts. First, it ensures that payment of these fees by currently unlicensed drivers become a regular source of revenue to our state and secondly, it encourages responsible behavior. We don’t want any of our state residents to be breaking the law. Remember that feeling of pride and satisfaction you had when you first got your State of CT DMV issued driver’s license? And the sense of responsibility that came along with it?”
A common sense solution with practical benefits. Here’s hoping our legislators agree.
By Madelyn Colon