For a decade, Pennsylvania allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses. Now immigrants in the commonwealth face long odds to restore the old rule.
The undocumented Pennsylvania residents who gathered Wednesday at the state Capitol – some with U.S.-born children, some whose spouses had been deported – said that as Washington dithers on overhauling immigration laws, state lawmakers could do something to help immigrants contribute to the commonwealth's economy.
Pablo Escobar, a business owner in Easton who has born in Argentina, said he should be able to drive legally in Pennsylvania, where he's lived for 10 years.
"People's confused. People's really confused. When they think to give something to immigrants, it's about, 'Don't give anything because they don't deserve it,'" Escobar said. "Well, I'm living here. I'm paying my taxes just like everybody ... in this state."
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The proposal would allow those without a Social Security number to register for a driver's license with the same ID number they use to pay taxes.
Supporters say immigrants with a driver's license would not only be able to drive legally – they would have an easier time getting a job, taking a child to the doctor, or renting a home. They argue the state has an interest in making sure drivers are licensed and insured. Other supporters see the rule change as a revenue generator for the commonwealth.
"All the people here are demanding is to pay more money to the state of Pennsylvania, which will make at least a small contribution to ending our fiscal crisis," said Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, who introduced the plan.
The Republicans who control the House oppose it.
"If they want to come here, there is a process," said Steve Miskin, House GOP spokesman. "If they're not here legally, they shouldn't be driving ... the state should not be sanctioning people being here illegally."
Rep. Nick Micozzie, R-Delaware, chairs the transportation committee, where the bill has been referred. He said he'd support the plan with tweaks, but he's not sure many others would.
"I don't think we'll ever have the votes to pass that bill," Micozzie said. Without pressure from his committee members to advance the measure, he said he would not schedule a vote. "Make sure I don't get egg on my face and it doesn't pass."
Short of a vote, advocates will take a hearing. Fight for Drivers Licenses, the group lobbying for the change in license rules, said Temple University's School of Law plans to release a report in late June on the need for licenses among immigrants in Pennsylvania and fiscal impact of allowing them to be obtained with a tax ID number.
PennDOT issued licenses regardless of immigration status from 1992 to 2002, but stopped the practice in response to September 11th terrorist attacks.
At the time, a newspaper report quoted an immigrant who said even then, Pennsylvania's driver's licenses were too hard to obtain for undocumented workers, and many drove without a license.