Washington Legislature
12:45 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Immigrants' rally in Olympia against driver's license bills

Immigrant rights groups are pushing back against efforts to deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants in Washington. They rallied at the Capitol Wednesday in opposition to several legislative proposals. 

In the Capitol Rotunda, the chant was:

Safety first, driver's licenses for all.

Members of the group OneAmerica voiced opposition to the half-dozen proposals in the Washington legislature to require proof – or at least evidence of – lawful presence in the United States in order to get a driver's license.

Last August, Esmeralda Pena was hit by an unlicensed, uninsured illegal immigrant:

"So he couldn't pay for my car even if it was his fault. They just deported him to Mexico and that was it," says Pena.

She argues the roads will get more dangerous if the state cracks down on illegal immigrants getting driver's licenses.

But in Oregon a study by the state Department of Transportation finds unlicensed driving did not increase after a 2008 law required citizenship checks for driver's licenses. However, the report notes the full impact won’t be known for several years. 

The driver's license issue is just one of several priorities of immigrant rights advocates in Olympia this year. They also oppose cuts to several state programs aimed at immigrants including: health coverage for children, state food assistance, medical interpreters and a program that helps immigrants through the naturalization process.