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Immigrant families from across Wisconsin celebrate a new hope for inclusion and equity

Governor Evers has said he will include a measure in his budget proposal that broadens access to driver licenses, making it easier for immigrant parents and workers to make ends meet and provide supportive homes for their children. Breaking down barriers to licenses would also bring broad-based benefits to Wisconsin’s economy and boost communities and businesses across the state.

Currently, Wisconsin blocks residents who are undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver licenses. And yet, it is nearly impossible to live in Wisconsin without driving—putting Wisconsin residents who are undocumented in a grim predicament. The prohibition on licenses means that seemingly mundane tasks like giving a neighbor a ride to church or driving to the doctor’s office can result in potentially life-altering consequences. For these residents, something as minor as being pulled over for a burned-out headlight can trigger a series of events that results in separation from their families and the loss of their homes and livelihoods. That uncertainty traumatizes children and takes a deep toll on families and communities.

Governor Evers wants to strike down that prohibition and have Wisconsin join the 12 other states in which residents who are undocumented can obtain licenses. Removing barriers to licenses will improve the well-being of immigrant residents of Wisconsin, including many who act as breadwinners and caretakers for their children. Of the estimated 32,000 drivers who will be able to obtain licenses if barriers are removed, 12,000 live with at least one child who is a U.S. citizen.

In addition to strengthening families, removing barriers to driver licenses will strengthen local economies, by improving the bottom line of businesses and improving job prospects for workers. An estimated 22,000 Wisconsin workers who are undocumented would obtain licenses if obstacles were reduced. Allowing these workers to obtain licenses would improve the match between employers and employees, with workers holding jobs that utilize their full skill set, and employers gaining full access to the flexibility of the labor market. (For more about the benefits of removing barriers to driver licenses, read Widen the Road by Kids Forward, November 2018.)

Immigrant families aren’t the only ones facing state-imposed barriers to driver licenses. Wisconsin suspends the licenses of drivers who are struggling financially and can’t afford to pay their parking tickets or other tickets for minor traffic infractions. Without a license, workers might not be able to get to work, and could lose their jobs. The result is that the state of Wisconsin is taking away the very tools that workers—disproportionately workers of color—need to succeed.

Governor Evers is taking an important first step by including a proposal in his budget to break down barriers to licenses. Getting the proposal through the legislature is likely to be difficult, but with a divided state government, both sides are going to have to make compromises on what they want in the budget. State legislators should abandon harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and instead should roll up their sleeves and join Governor Evers in making sure that Wisconsin is a great place to work, drive, and raise a family — for everyone.

Voces de la Frontera held a celebratory rally outside of the inauguration ceremony for Governor Evers on January 7 at the Wisconsin State Capitol, to support his immigration initiatives and urge legislators to pass his proposed budget, including driver licenses and in-state tuition.

Over 150 supporters of the Milwaukee-based Hispanic nonprofit held a press conference in the rain, as officials and the public gathered for the inauguration ceremony of Governor Evers, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, and other state elected officials. In attendance were residents from Milwaukee, Green Bay, Lake Geneva, Racine, Waukesha, and Madison, representing some of the state’s largest immigrant populations.

These images and quotes from the rally highlight the concerns and topics presented to the public.

“The Latino vote was crucial in this election. I am an immigrant, and unfortunately, I cannot vote, but I helped mobilize my coworkers, friends and family to vote. We all can participate in this great democracy. We are all human beings, we all deserve respect, we all deserve to be treated with dignity. Today is a great victory for our community.”

– Gabriel Quintero, a father and member of Voces de la Frontera from Waukesha

“We are excited that Governor-elect Evers is including driver licenses and in-state tuition for all in his proposed budget. We are committed to engaging voters from both parties and independents across the state to support these proposals, which will only strengthen Wisconsin. We urge leaders in the legislature from both parties to support these provisions.”

– Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera

“As advocates our main goal is to save lives and ensure survivors’ safety. A driver license can save a survivor’s life. A driver license is a door to independence, empowerment, and building a new life. Passing a driver license bill is a tremendous opportunity to support and empower survivors and aid them in the process of escaping abuse.

– Veronica Figueroa, Executive Director of Unidos, a nonprofit that works to end domestic violence

“The Wisconsin Farmers Union recognizes the important role that immigrants play in our society and on our farms, and has for years supported the issuance of driver cards to allow immigrant workers, their families, and their farm employers to come out of the shadows. This approach is the way that we can be responsible citizens with our neighbors and employees, particularly in light of the inability of the US Congress to formulate a just and comprehensive immigration policy.”

– W. Michael Slattery, a farmer, economist, and member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union

“Wisconsin’s immigrant communities make significant contributions to Wisconsin’s schools, communities, and economy and deserve to be treated humanely. They help Wisconsin maintain strong, vibrant communities and can further contribute to the livelihood of our state by being allowed to obtain driver licenses. By expanding this access to Wisconsin’s immigrant communities, lawmakers can make sure that our state is a great place to work, drive, and raise a family—for everyone.”

– Ken Taylor, Executive Director of Kids Forward

Susan Ruggles and Lee Matz

Originally published on wisconsinbudgetproject.org

Help support the Wisconsin Budget Project with a donation. The organization is engaged in analysis and education on state budget and tax issues, particularly those relating to low-income families. It seeks to broaden the debate on budget and tax policy through public education and by encouraging civic engagement on these issues.

About The Author

Tamarine Cornelius

Tamarine Cornelius is one of two analysts at the Wisconsin Budget Project. She works to show how budget decisions affect every individual and family in Wisconsin, and advocates for smart public investments that will boost the state's economy.

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