MADISON (WKOW) — As the Legislature considers the proposed state budget and the public gets the chance to weigh in, Madison’s Latino community gathered Sunday afternoon to support a measure that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.
Governor Tony Evers included the plan in his budget proposal. To earn a license, the driver would have to pass the same driving test as citizens and the licenses would not allow the holder to vote.
These licenses were available to undocumented immigrants until the law changed 2007.
Voces de la Frontera held meetings across the state as a call to action. Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz held Sunday’s at Centro Hispano in Madison.
“This is something that affects everybody,” she said.
To rally support, Neumann-Ortiz is asking Latino businesses owners, students and employees to either stay home or head to the Capitol on May 1st for another statewide “Day without Latinos and Immigrants.”
She said their goal is show just what would have to the workforce and economy without the Latino community.
“To appreciate and respect the contributions immigrants make to our state,” she said.
The last statewide effort was in 2016. Thousands came to the Capitol to protest proposed bills that would ban cities from passing laws against law enforcement officers asking for the immigration status of people who have been arrested and prevent cities and counties from issuing photo ID cards for immigrants.
This year’s effort focuses on driver’s licenses. Neumann-Ortiz said allowing immigrants to earn these licenses would improve public safety and Latino trust in law enforcement.
“Roads are much safer when you have people who have had the ability to take a driving test,” she said.
Instead she said many undocumented drivers are afraid any interaction with police will result in deportation.
“People are not willing to come forward,” she said. “People will run away from a car accident. If they’ve been a victim of a crime or a witness, they don’t want to approach law enforcement.”
The proposal faces stiff opposition. It needs to pass the Joint Finance Committee to be included in the state budget and both Republican co-chairs, Senator Alberta Darling and Representative John Nygren, have spoken against the measure.
Nygren tweeted his concern last week. He said he’s concerned that Wisconsin already has tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants and “provisions like in-state tuition and driver’s licensees for undocumented immigrants exacerbate this.”
This is unacceptable and should be addressed. Provisions like in-state tuition and drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants only exacerbate this.
— John Nygren (@rep89) April 3, 2019
Neumann-Ortiz said these types of concerns focus on the wrong problem.
“You’re not resolving the immigration issue,” she said. “Immigrants are here because they’ve been here for a really long time.”
That’s why Neumann-Ortiz said licenses are only a start. To address larger immigration issues, she said that work needs to come from the national level.
“These folks are very much a part of our community and what we need is a legal path,” she said.