By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Florida could join the ranks with other states allowing undocumented immigrants to get a drivers’ license.
The push is being driven by several groups petitioning lawmakers to approve a bill that would permit undocumented residents to navigate the highways legally.
Last weekend, United-Families, Students Working for Equal Rights and Tampa Estate set up camp at the Doral Farmers Market in South Florida to gather signatures for petitions calling for the measure.
“We got about 500 signatures,” said Francis Tumes, an undocumented student who got a license and a work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The DACA program grants qualifying applicants, who are at least 15 years old, a reprieve from prosecution and possible deportation for a period of two years, as well as authorization to work. The goal is to suspend deportations of people who were brought into the country by their parents when they were young.
“Getting a driving license and a work permit allowed me to change jobs and improve my living standards,” Tumes said. “Before that, I was cleaning cars, but now I work in an office.”
Tumes came to the country when he was 6 and now attends classes at Florida International University in Miami.
But last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill, known as the “Dream Act Driver License” that would have given certain undocumented immigrants a green light to apply for a driver’s license, something that a lot of employers require. The bill sailed through the state Senate and House, but Scott slammed on the breaks when it landed on his desk.
Muzaffar Chishti, a lawyer and director of Migration Policy Institute at New York University School of Law said he is hopeful the a big shift happened in 2013.
“There were only three states that allowed the unauthorized to obtain drivers’ licenses prior to 2013, (Washington, New Mexico and Utah). Ten more did that in 2013,” he said.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates Florida’s undocumented immigrants number between 750,000 and 1.15 million and many don’t have legal permission to drive.
Those opposed to giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who maintains they don’t qualify for the privilege simply because they don’t have legal status.
In an editorial published by the New York Times by James Jay Carafano, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, said that issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants could have the effect of changing long-held federal standards.
“States that issue the same licenses to illegal and legal residents will soon be in violation of new federal standards,” said Carafano. “As a result, citizens won’t be allowed to present their driver’s licenses as ID for federal purposes, such as passing through airport security checkpoints.”
The National Conference of State Legislature says 10 states have enacted similar laws, but implementation dates vary. In California, licenses for undocumented immigrants will be issued in 2015.
In Florida, meanwhile, supporters need to collect 10,000 signatures to get the petition before the Florida Legislature.
“We will continue collecting signatures in Doral, and then move on to Homestead and Broward County,” Tumes, the Miami activist, said.
Even though “Dream Act Driver License” got shot down last year, it seems to have political support from both Republicans and Democrats. Watchdog.org tried to contact several state lawmakers, but none responded to our request for an interview.
To Chishti, the legislation makes sense from an economic point of view.
“Many of these people live in areas where there is no public transport,” he said. “A law that allows them to get a license will help them to get to work and, at the same time, aid the economy by getting them to work.”
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter