Saturday, March 26, 2005

A Conversation About Immigration Status

Yesterday, I spoke with State Representative Grace Diaz, my state rep. I had some concerns with legislation she had proposed, specifically centered around the issue of undocumented immigrants. According to my understanding, if you are undocumented you should not be in the country. If the immigration service finds you - you are likely to be deported. In fact, many of my neighbors had major qualms about Ms. Diaz's heritage and wondered whether or not she would just push issues favoring immigrants or the recently naturalized citizens. I too had those same concerns but having spoke to Grace on several other occassions had allayed those fears until I saw these bills. One bill H6066 would allow undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain drivers' licenses. I had numerous problems with this. First, if they are undocumented, giving them a license basically allows them to remain in the country as a license can be utilized in many different ways to identify a person. In effect, this subverts federal laws prohibiting illegal immigrants. Second, with this passage would come an influx of undocumented immigrants from other parts of the country. If you can get a license in RI without documentation "honey, do you know what a quahog is?". Third, the bill circumvents the main issue: undocumented immigrants living in our communities. By granting a license, the state would basically say, "we can't document these people, but they're here so here's an idea - let's give them licenses and forgettaboutit." Again, this subverts federal statutes and in reality, makes it far too easy for an undocumented person to continue to remain in this country i-l-l-e-g-a-l-l-y. Ms. Diaz responded by stating that by providing undocumented persons - the category which includes people merely trespassing on US soil to those who have had VISAs expire - adds to the safety of RI by creating more licensed drivers. To which I said, "using that logic - the state should actually look for these people, not issue licenses, and hand them to immigration for immediate deportation. If people are doubly breaking the law, the answer isn't to make legal which is now illegal, but to root out the offenders." She understood my position but again said that the people are here and just need the opportunity to get their immigration status resolved. At this point, I was pretty much convinced that this and other bills Ms. Diaz has introduced this legislative season were completely in alignment with what my neighbors had feared and also not in step with building up my Elmwood community. That is until Grace said this, "we are a nation of immigrants." That might not seem so profound, but it clicked in my brain. Indeed, my family emigrated here from Africa by way of a boat and unwillingly. More to the point, the US has generally welcomed immigrants and provided opportunity to them matched by no other country on earth. We are a rainbow - a mixture of the best of hundreds of cultures. And in that spirit, our position as a government shouldn't be one of deport first ask later - but of doing fact checking with the hopes of welcoming as we have welcomed millions before. With that in mind, I asked Grace if she would consider the following: 1. Issuance of temporary licenses dependant upon becoming a legal immigrant. 2. At the point of license application, providing the DMV with the appropriate INS form necessary to update status. 3. Instead of encompassing the whole world of undocumented immigrants start with those whose VISA's have expired and go from there. She took all these with stride and mentioned having thought of a couple beforehand. What I wanted to impart to Grace was this:

  • Members of the legislature would kill this bill, as written, in a heartbeat;
  • in order to receive licenses, undocumented immigrants MUST demonstrate practical steps towards legalizing their residency;
  • Even if they do, it's going to be very, very, difficult to pass this bill.

We agreed that with some changes this bill could prove beneficial to the many undocumented immigrants and community at large in Rhode Island. Lastly, if you ever have a question or concern about a piece of legislation your assemblyperson proposes, ask questions first before jumping to conclusions. You may just end up helping provide solutions than simple and uneffective whining and complaining.


Blogger matthewRI said...

hey don - i understand your concerns, but i think that a majority of police departments support this kind of legislation - including providence - is because undocumented immigrants are going to drive anyways. there are 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. they go to work everyday, go shopping everday. if you don't allow them to license their driving - as 41 states do - our nation's highways will be full of unlicensed, untested, and uninsured drivers.

until the federal government - which right now is controlled by the Republican Party - deals with comprehensive immigration reform, our state government should work to ensure the safety and well being of its citizenry - which is what this drivers license bill will do.

3/27/2005 02:02:00 PM  

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