Providence, Rhode Island – Advocates, community members, and elected officials concerned about the well-being of Rhode Island’s immigrant residents came together at the State House library on March 10th to support legislation that would make obtaining a drivers’ licenses more accessible to undocumented Rhode Islanders.
The ‘Driver’s Licenses for All’ campaign kickoff was hosted by the Immigrant Coalition of Rhode Island, an association of 35 Rhode Island based organizations committed to ensuring fair and equal treatment of our immigrant neighbors.
Arely Diaz, lead organizer of AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance) welcomed participants and touched upon the struggle the ‘Driver’s Licenses for All’ cause had faced and how supporters hope this would be the year Rhode Island could provide this important community resource.
Sponsors of the bills, Senator Frank Ciccone and Representative Anastasia Williams both emphasized the importance of the passage of this legislation. Senator Ciccone went on to say this is not an immigration issue but a public safety issue. While Representative Williams described the challenges of getting this legislation passed and asked the audience, “how long is too long?”
Mayor Elorza of Providence highlighted that 15 other states have passed similar legislation and stressed the need to keep spreading awareness to those who are willing to listen to reason and are guided by principles and values such as inclusion and full acceptance.
Isabely Garcia a community advocate with AMOR and undocumented Afro-Latina single mother from the Dominican Republic spoke of her personal hardships. She described how difficult it was to start her cleaning business because her status doesn’t allow her a driver’s license, this led her to rely heavily on costly ride-share apps for transportation.
Reverend Santiago Rodriguez of Gloria Dei Lutheran represented the faith community and articulated how driving in Rhode Island is critical to access to essential services, commuting to work, and engaging in community life.
Juan Carlos Velez, a Colombian immigrant, and previous employee of SEIU 32BJ (Service Employees International Union) described how providing a driver’s license to undocumented residents alleviates the hardship of engaging in a typical life for working families.
Catarina Lorenzo, director for AMOR, which hosts a 24 hour multi-lingual support line connecting immigrants to mental health care, legal assistance, and transportation spoke about the significance of having a driver’s license. “One of the most common requests we get through the AMOR support line is to help people in the undocumented community with transportation, especially women with children so they can go to work or school, or make court dates and appointments with lawyers,”
The audience, bill sponsors, and all the Representatives and Senators present were thanked for their support and commitment to this important issue.