Virginians Push Driving Privileges for Undocumented Immigrants

There is a renewed hope this year that Virginia lawmakers might be willing to approve a plan to provide driver’s privilege cards for undocumented immigrants.

It’s estimated as many as 300,000 undocumented people are driving without a license in the Commonwealth. Supporters say giving those drivers a legal way to drive isn't a political issue — it's about public safety.

Lenka Mendoza came to Virginia from Peru in 2000 and got her license before the state required proof of legal residence.

She wants all undocumented immigrants to be able to drive with the same confidence she has. With her own teenage son out on the road now, she says safety is her biggest concern.

"But what I’m mostly concerned about as a mother is that Virginia roads are safe," Mendoza said.

"I want to make sure every single person who is driving behind a wheel of a car in Virginia has taken drivers ed, has passed the driver's test, knows the rules of the road," she continued.

Mendoza joined groups Tuesday who are once again urging Virginia lawmakers to create a driver privilege card that would be issued by the DMV to undocumented immigrants.

Recipients would have to prove they paid state income tax and they have to meet insurance requirements.

 "For now we have 300,000 people who are driving without a license simply because the state won’t allow them to get one. That makes everyone less safe, not more safe," said the Legal Aid Justice Center's Simon Sandoval-Moshenburg.

Those who advocate for undocumented immigrants say they have another motivation, too. When someone is caught driving without a license, it can often be a pipeline to deportation.

"Driving without a license is a good way to end up with a quick trip to jail and a trip to jail is the number one way to end up in deportation proceedings," Sandoval-Moshenburg said.

 Last year a bill to permit a driver privilege card didn’t even make it out of committee. Republican lawmakers opposed to the cards say they could create confusion. Others believe those here illegally should not be given any sort of legitimate ID.

Maryland and D.C. enacted laws in 2013 that provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Eleven other states also have similar laws on the books.

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