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.