January 20, 2006

Driving legislation for immigrants
to be addressed

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

As immigrants pour into Indiana to fill the labor shortfall, the Indiana General Assembly will consider legislation granting the undocumented immigrants driving privileges—legislation the Indiana Catholic Conference has marked as a priority issue this year.

Rep. John Aguilera (D-East Chicago), author of one of the driving privileges proposals, said the purpose of House Bill 1357 is to create a new category of driving privileges in Indiana known as a driver’s certificate.

“It is primarily for those who are undocumented—without a Social Security number—but who live and work in our state. It does not allow them to board a plane. It does not further their immigration status,” Aguilera said.

“The reality of this issue is we have an immigrant community living, working and paying taxes in our state,” he continued. “This bill simply gives them a valid way to move around the state. We’re really trying to take care of a public safety issue.”

House Bill 1357 is modeled after Utah’s driving privileges law and, if passed, the driving privilege would only be valid in Indiana.

“It became clear when the federal government enacted the Real ID Act that immigrants would not be able to get a driver’s license without a Social Security number,” said Aguilera, who is a member of St. Stanislaus Parish in East Chicago, Ind., in the Gary Diocese. The Real ID Act set guidelines for undocumented immigrants regarding driving privileges.

When asked about opposition to the legislation, the representative said, “Those who are anti-immigration see this as a step furthering immigration status, but that’s a federal issue, not a state issue. While I support tightening of immigration controls, Indiana’s not a border state.”

“We’re just dealing with reality and trying to tackle a state issue by giving those already living here a valid way to drive,” Aguilera added.

Rep. Mike Murphy, (R-Indi-anapolis) who has authored a similar driving privileges proposal—House Bill 1310—said his bill attempts to do two things.

“First, to recognize the reality of the many immigrants we have here working in our community, but who do not have the legal documentation to obtain a driver’s license to drive to work,” said Murphy, who is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis.

“Secondly, it is to solve a problem by providing an opportunity to qualify for a driving certificate as long as they first take a written and driving test and have valid insurance.”

Regarding opposition to the driving privileges concept, Murphy said, “You’re always going to have opposition to a group of people who look different or speak a different language. This is a classic example of the ‘Know Nothing’ thinking of the 1850s. There will always be a remnant of this ‘Know Nothing’ mentality. Even though we are a country of immigrants, there will always be a group of people who will do anything to make the immigrants not welcome.”

House Bills 1310 and 1357 have been assigned to the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Rep. Bill Ruppel (R-North Manchester) chairs the committee. Murphy said he is hopeful the bill will pass this year.

Benedictine Sister Karen Durliat of the Guadalupe Center in Huntingburg, a ministry of the Evansville Diocese which serves the Hispanic community, said she knows there are a lot of people who can’t obtain a driver’s license because they are not legal immigrants.

“The driver’s certificate program would be a great help to those who need to drive to work, to English as a second language class or to take their children to school,” Sister Karen said.

A February 2005 report to the Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (ICHLA) submitted by the subcommittee on the driver’s license issue noted, “Problems resulting from not licensing drivers include increased insurance rates, greater risk of accidents, and higher costs of policing roads and highways, negatively impacting all.”

The subcommittee concluded in their report that access to driving privileges “will make Indiana a safer, more attractive state for growth of business, tourism and families.”

For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference and its legislative updates, log on to www.indianacc.org.

(Bridget Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.) †


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