Campaign seeks to get undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses

  • People gather at The Majestic Saloon for a campaign kick-off event in support of a bill that would expand driver’s licenses to everyone, regardless of immigration status, Oct. 23.  STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2019 8:47:59 AM

NORTHAMPTON — More than 50 people gathered Wednesday night at The Majestic Saloon to kick off the Pioneer Valley Workers Center’s public campaign to pressure local businesses and community members to support a state bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

The campaign, which officially starts Oct. 24, aims to rally local businesses, farms and restaurants to support H.3012/S.2061, also known as the Work and Family Mobility Act, a bill on Beacon Hill that would expand access to driver’s licenses. In a speech to the crowd, Christina Ruggiero-Corliss, lead organizer in the PVWC street team and member of the economic pressure campaign, said there were already 22 businesses in support of the campaign across the Pioneer Valley. 

“As members of this community, and as consumers, we can all use this information to give our support to local businesses that reflect our values as a community,” Ruggiero-Corliss said, noting that the list of supporting businesses will be posted online “within the coming week.”

According to a flyer about the bills by the ACLU of Massachusetts, arrests of people without a criminal conviction by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the first two years of the Trump administration has more than tripled. In the same period of time, the flyer said there was a fivefold increase in arrests of immigrants who have been charged with an offense but not yet convicted — the most common of which were traffic offenses.

Thirteen states have passed similar bills, with the most recent being New York this year. The ACLU flyer also explained that access to driving is essential to physical mobility in the state, and that tested and insured drivers make roads safer.

Throughout the event, many immigrants and non-immigrants alike came to the microphone to give their perspective on why businesses and members of the community should support the campaign and the bill to expand access to driver’s licenses.

One of those speakers was Juana Herrera, an immigrant who has been in the country for 10 years and just received her driver’s license three months ago. Speaking through a translator, Herrera told the audience in Spanish about her fear while driving for two years without a license.

“I always would get so nervous every time I saw state police following me or driving near me on the highway,” Herrera said. 

Herrera said she became involved with working at the Workers Center after her cousin was detained by ICE three years ago as he was driving without a license.

“I’m here to really ask all of you to get involved to support this fight to win driver’s licenses for all,” Herrera said. "Driver’s licenses are going to give us access to do things the way we’ve been wanting to do them — like for instance, pay for car insurance.”

Current and former clergy members from the Universalist Unitarian Society of Amherst and the First Churches of Northampton, along with local business leaders, spoke later at the event.

One of the speakers raised the concern that ICE may be given information on undocumented people who were given driver’s licenses after this behavior was reported in Vermont. Rose Bookbinder, co-director of the PVWC, said that the group was working with the ACLU to adequately protect such information and to educate those who might be affected.

“It is the own agency of the immigrant community to make those decisions about what risk they might want to take,” Bookbinder said. 

One of the co-owners of The Majestic Saloon, Brock Parent, said the bar was glad to support the initiatives as Parent believed there were “bigger injustices” in the Pioneer Valley than the effect of “pot and panhandlers” on local businesses.

“As small businesses, we believe we have a responsibility to be vocal in that fight for more just and equitable communities and protections,” Parent said. “This means that all people and all businesses and all movements must be in support of those who are most vulnerable.”

After the event, Herrera told the Gazette that her life as a working single mother has not been easy and that taking public transportation is both difficult and time-consuming.

“I want to help people,” Herrera said. “I think that my family is going to need this, and other people are going to need this. Their life should be easier because mine was not.”

Following the launch, some stayed for a teach-in where PVWC members explained techniques on how to ask businesses to consider supporting the campaign. Businesses in support of both the campaign and the bill will hang a decal in their windows and will be posted on as a means of public promotion.

Michael Connors can be reached at 
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