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A win for undocumented immigrants is a win for all

by Tram Nguyen Guest Column/Virginia Mercury

 Advocates supporting legislation to extend driving privileges to undocumented immigrants rallied outside the Virginia Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Every person in Virginia deserves to live in their community free from fear.

The exclusion of undocumented Virginians from being able to drive has been a crippling barrier to that principle. But the state legislature has now passed a bill that will allow driving for many immigrant residents through driver privilege cards this session. At New Virginia Majority we have organized and advocated for this basic right, and now previously undocumented families and communities will legally be able to drive in the state of Virginia. 

Having the right to drive can be a matter of life and death under everyday circumstances: a sick child that needs immediate medical attention, or a woman getting ready to bring a new life into the world. Most of us take this access for granted. This is a crucial advancement – for those that have waited patiently just to be able to drive themselves to work, take their children to doctor’s appointments, or attend local events, this a chance to become fully active members of their community.

Ovidia Castillo Rosa, a member of New Virginia Majority’s Loudoun County chapter described it best, ”Not having a driver’s license is like not having feet. Being able to drive would be like having wings. When I have a driver’s license, there are so many things that I’ll have the freedom to do, including starting my own business.”

Cecilia Cruz, a member of New Virginia Majority, has been involved in the fight for the right to drive, and has called her representatives, and encouraged her friends and neighbors to march in support. “The streets will be more safe and more money will stay in the state,” she said. “Families will be able to leave their children and go to work in safety, without fear.” 

Providing this credential will give thousands of Virginians the ability to legally drive and is a huge victory. But we recognize driver privilege cards are not the same as driver’s licenses, and there is much more to be done. Our communities, in an era of open and growing institutional racism and xenophobia, understand that having a driver’s privilege card has the potential to make them vulnerable, as it will make them immediately identifiable as an undocumented person and creates a segment of immigrant drivers. 

Our organizers, advocates and chapter members will continue to fight for a society that treats people equally and with dignity no matter what their status, language, zip code, gender, race, or ethnicity is, and we will work to strengthen privacy protections for all Virginians, regardless of immigration status. 

When the presidential election comes to a close in the fall, we pledge to stand by immigrant communities and keep them informed of both the opportunities and threats presented by this law, regardless of who holds the office. 

We believe in a Virginia that is welcoming and provides an opportunity for all its residents to succeed and live happy and healthy lives. The outcome of this legislative session was a step in the right direction and toward a more inclusive Virginia. But until all of our communities are granted the full protections and access to driver’s licenses, the fight continues. 

Tram Nguyen is co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, which works to builds power in working-class communities of color, in immigrant communities, among LGBTQ people, women, youth, and progressives across the commonwealth.

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