D.C. Council Approves Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Residents

DC Mayor Office Action

Undocumented immigrants in the District can get drivers licenses from May 1, 2014. Alas, the driver’s licenses will be different from the ones issued to D.C. residents.

I am personally glad to have pushed for one license in D.C., and thus, changed the debate from whether the undocumented should get licenses to whether the licenses should be equal in nature.

Marybeth Onyeukwu, a friend and fellow D.C. resident states:

“The community is so desperate for relief that we could not in good conscience kill the driver’s license bill. The fight is far from over. We will continue fighting until all DC residents are treated equally with dignity and respect. With all that said it is a shame that DC council could not stand up for the community.”

Salvador Sarmiento from NDLON agrees:

“The bill passed today is a significant step toward restoring access to basic services and reducing the threat of deportation for DC’s immigrant residents. It makes our streets safer and our communities more secure. People in the district will be able to arrive at their jobs and bring their children home from school without constant worry. Yet the marking on the license singles out DC’s undocumented residents and opens up potential discrimination and targeting, especially outside the district. The community effort that brought the issue forward will continue to advance immigrants’ rights in the district. Until we have equal access for everyone and recognize that we are ‘one city’ that deserves one license we have much more work ahead of us.”

The lesson for immigration reform advocates from the District’s fight for immigrant licenses is not that pushing to the left is alienating, but how it is a winning strategy. I think pushing to the left made this D.C. license debate not about whether or not to grant licenses to the undocumented, but how to do so in a manner that respects the dignity of the undocumented while challenging insidious laws such as REAL ID. We tried. We sat in the Mayor’s office for one single license. We got the D.C. Coalition for Immigrant Rights to listen. Together, we had the bill amended to one license, unanimously. We had it sail out of committee. We even got it through the first read without a single dissent.

At the end of the day, we were betrayed as DHS lashed out at Councilmember Cheh, bullying the Council on retracting its support for the one license policy. I think it was a worthwhile fight that demonstrates that we can stick to our principles, and still notch a win for our communities, who need a license to drive, regardless of whether it is marked or not.

The fight for equality and liberation continues.

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