Restoring Access to Driver Licenses for Immigrants and Low-Income U.S. Citizens Vital for the Economy, Public Safety and Keeping Families Together
By Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera
Voces de la Frontera is a nonpartisan organization engaged in advocacy on issues of civil rights and equity that does not endorse or oppose any candidate, party, or political committee. This column was republished here at no expense to the charity.
Thousands of immigrants, African American and Latinx citizens are currently disenfranchised from Wisconsin driver licenses with severe consequences. Lack of a valid driver’s license is a major barrier to employment, contributes to mass incarceration, undermines public safety, and leads to the separation of families. According a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee report, across the state of Wisconsin only 53% of black adults and 52% of Latinx adults hold valid licenses compared to 85% of white adults.
In 2007, after the passage of federal legislation, Wisconsin took away the ability of undocumented immigrants to renew or apply for a driver’s license. Under the Trump Administration's anti-immigrant agenda, traffic stops for driving without a license are leading to more deportations and the separation of immigrant families. Not only do immigrants face the burden of expensive fines and car confiscation, stops are the primary means to identify and deport immigrants.
In Waukesha, a father of four who came to the U.S. when he was 13 was detained by ICE after going to court for driving without a license. The number of deportation cases has grown significantly as ICE agents go into courtrooms, dairy farms and around schools to detain people.
For Black and Latinx citizens, inability to pay fines for driving without a license can lead to a suspension and jail. People lose the ability to get to jobs located far from segregated neighborhoods, locking them into poverty, unemployment and the stigma of a criminal record. This problem affects around 300,000 people, disproportionately Black and Latinx.
For 13 years, Voces de la Frontera has fought so that no one is denied the right to drive because of income or immigration status and this year we are poised for a breakthrough. Governor Tony Evers included measures to restore driver licenses for immigrant Wisconsinites in his 2019-21 state budget proposal. Voces will demand driver licenses for all at Joint Finance Committee hearings throughout the state, building towards a May Day mobilization. You can help:
- Call Senator Alberta Darling, Chair of the Joint Finance Committee, representing much of the North Shore, tell her that you support restoring access to driver licenses for undocumented people and low-income U.S. citizens at (608) 266-5830.
- March with us on a “Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants” on May 1st, 11am at the State Capitol in Madison. More info at vdlf.org/mayday2019.
In the past two years, Grassroots North Shore has partnered with Wisconsin Conservation Voters (then called the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters) to help elect environment-friendly candidates and to affect environmental legislation and policy.
The group just changed its name and branding this year to more accurately represent its mission of engaging voters to protect Wisconsin’s environment. The conservation voter movement is inclusive and welcomes everyone. The new name and logo communicate that better than the old “league” name.
Wisconsin Conservation Voters advocates for sound environmental laws and policies, holds elected officials accountable for their votes and actions and elects pro-conservation candidates who will champion our priority issues.
What are their priorities? They align well with those of Grassroots North Shore. They advocate for clean drinking water, public lands, and moving local communities as well as the state toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Those are the broad strokes of their work this year. But, as always, they will watch every bill that’s working through the State Capitol.
Their upcoming Conservation Lobby Day is a biennial event that brings conservation voters from across the state to Madison, where people learn more about conservation issues, speak with their legislators in person, and enjoy guest speakers and fellowship with their peers. It’s a crucial step to shaping the next two years of conservation work in the legislature.
Before being elected, all of the state’s executive officers signed the Wisconsin Conservation Voters Conservation Pledge. It’s a new day for Wisconsin’s environment, but the work is just beginning. As they help conservation voters across the state take action in the short term and on issues that demand a longer commitment, we think that some of our membership in Grassroots North Shore will want to join in.
In the swirling fog that is the 24/7 news cycle, sometimes really important things can be lost. On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, the Supreme Court issued their opinion in Timbs v. Indiana. In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether state governments must comply with the Eighth Amendment: ‘Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’ For the record, this particular liberty dates all the way back to the Magna Carta.
Historically, the 14th Amendment was ratified to ensure that the individual liberties found in the Bill of Rights would also be protected against infringement by state governments. In prior cases, SCOTUS held that most of the protections in the Bill of Rights do apply to the states, but it had not specifically ruled on the Excessive Fines Clause. Noting this exception, the Indiana Supreme Court announced that it would “decline” to impose “a federal test” on Indiana in the absence of a direct command by the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the heart of this controversy is something called civil asset forfeiture, a process that has often been referred to as legalized theft. If an individual is simply accused of a crime, and not necessarily charged or convicted, their assets may be seized through a civil proceeding. It appears it is not necessary to prove these assets have a direct connection to the crime in question: dubious allegations seem to suffice. And there is this: civil proceedings do not afford the accused the due process safeguards found in criminal law. For too many years, this process has been used by various governmental and law enforcement agencies to guarantee for themselves a profitable revenue stream.
But, on February 20, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court for the first time prohibited all 50 states from imposing excessive fines, holding that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “excessive fines” applies to the states under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Seldom do all nine justices agree to restrict the power that police and prosecutors exert over individuals. While the decision will no doubt generate a myriad of questions, and likely be the basis for other court filings, there is much to celebrate.
The majority opinion was authored by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
Despite the Democrats' sweep of statewide offices in the last election, Republicans in the legislature are planning a special session for Tuesday, December 4, to "limit Wisconsin early voting [and] strip powers from Tony Evers and Josh Kaul" (see the details in the Journal Sentinel). Your state senator and assembly representative need to hear from their constituents. Let them know in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS how damaging to our democracy such moves are.
The Lame Duck Session time line: This Monday, Dec 3 12:30 at the Capitol please attend if you can), there is a public hearing followed by a closed session of the legislature. (it is believed the 'public hearing' has been given 1 minute only, then the closed session will start.) A vote is scheduled for Tuesday. Truly an effort to divorce the people from the process.
Bottom Line, while the state overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, and the Democrats won all the statewide races on Nov. 6th, the gerrymandering left us with a Republican house and senate (despite the majority of the votes over all for Dems.) Thus the lame duck session, which allows the Republicans to vote on (and Scott Walker to sign) legislation to control Democratic power moving forward.
We need to say to the Republicans who may still have an ounce of integrity that they should VOTE NO and/or walk out of this subversion of Democracy.
What are they planning to do?
- limit voting - limit early voting to two weeks;
- limit governor and attorney general powers, by putting more powers in the hands of the (Republican controlled) legislature.
- Immediate effect, Evers will not have the power to expand the Affordable care act and provide improved health care for all Wisconsin citizens.
- The legislature will decide on adding (an expensive and unneeded) third election day this spring, hoping for a conservative vote on a Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate (assuming low voter turn out).
- The legislature will have the power to change individual income tax rates without input from the governor (executive branch).
- The office of solicitor general will be eliminated; this office oversees high profile litigation.
- The governor could not disband WEDC (and replace it with a Commerce Department). In addition, WEDC will be controlled by the legislature and not by the governor.
Senator Alberta Darling (608) 266-5830
Representative Jim Ott (608) 266-0486
Representative Dan Knodl (608) 266-3796
Be sure to give your name, address, phone number when calling or emailing because they want to make sure you are their district.
John Nichols — the Voice of the Wisconsin Resistance, national-affairs correspondent for The Nation, the associate editor of the Capital Times, and a national treasure — will get us charged up and engaged in the 2018 campaign with his talk titled "How We Win" on Sunday, October 14, at the Plymouth Church, 2717 E. Hampshire St., Milwaukee 53211.
There will be food trucks outside beginning at 5 pm, doors open 5:30 pm. (And the Packers game against the 49ers is not until Monday night!)
Early Voting Information*
Mon - Fri
Monday, October 8:
Monday, October 22
8 am-4:30 pm
|Brown Deer||414-371-3003||October 22||Mon - Fri||8 am-4:30 pm|
|Cedarburg (Town and City)||
|October 15||Mon - Fri||8 am-4:30 pm|
October 22, 2018
Mon - Fri
8 am-4:00 pm
8 am-6:00 pm
October 1 (with following additions):
Mon - Fri
8 am- 4:30 pm
7:00 am - 7:00 pm
8 am - noon
7:00 am - 7:00 pm
|Town of Grafton||262-375-5300||October 22||
Mon - Thurs
8 am-4:30 pm
|Village of Grafton||262-375-5000||October 15||Mon - Fri||8 am-4:30 pm|
|Mequon||262-242-3100||Now||Mon - Fri||8 am-4:00 pm|
|River Hills||414-352-8213||October 22||Mon - Fri||8 am-4:30 pm|
|October 1||Mon - Fri||8 am-4:30 pm|
|Whitefish Bay||962-6690||October 22||Mon - Fri||8 am-4:30 pm|