Texas

Immigrants, advocates to rally in Austin for driver’s licenses

Immigration advocates from North Texas are trying to get support for a Texas driver’s license or permit for people with not immigration status. Several will be traveling from Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth on Wednesday to visit with lawmakers in Austin. This photo depicts past rallies that local immigrants have attended in Austin.
Immigration advocates from North Texas are trying to get support for a Texas driver’s license or permit for people with not immigration status. Several will be traveling from Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth on Wednesday to visit with lawmakers in Austin. This photo depicts past rallies that local immigrants have attended in Austin. Gloria Gonzalez-Garcia

Maria Robles is her family’s chauffeur by necessity.

The 40-year-old mother works in Dallas but lives in Arlington with her family, including a husband with no legal status. That means he can’t legally drive in Texas, so Robles shuttles the family around as much as possible. Sometimes, her U.S.-born 17-year-old daughter helps.

“It’s a daily necessity that everybody has — especially in Arlington,” Robles said. “We don’t have public transportation.”

While many immigrant families depend on relatives who are legal and have a driver’s license, others choose to drive without a license. Either way, it’s a constant and frustrating burden, Robles said.

Robles and dozens of other immigrants and their advocates will hold a rally Wednesday at the Texas Capitol in Austin, hoping to persuade legislators to give illegal immigrants the chance to obtain a Texas driver’s license — long an issue in the immigrant community.

The Texas Can Do Better event is hosted by the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, a network of organizations supporting comprehensive immigration reform. Advocates from throughout Texas will show support for driver’s licenses, as well as in-state tuition for college students without legal status.

While waiting for federal lawmakers to grapple with immigration reform, Texas needs to help hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who want to drive legally and safely, supporters say.

But whether the issue can gain traction this legislative session is another question.

“It’s early in the session, so it is hard to predict what is going to happen,” said Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, who chairs the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

Phillips said the focus is on clarifying the state’s role in securing the Texas-Mexico border.

“The federal government is not doing its job,” Phillips said. “We are having the consequences of that, including folks driving around who don’t have their licenses.”

‘A creative solution’

The issue has surfaced during previous legislative sessions. In 2001, then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a measure that passed the Senate and the House. At the time, Perry said driving in Texas is a privilege that shouldn’t be given to people here illegally.

“We can’t give up,” said Gloria Gonzalez-Garcia, who is among North Texans heading to the rally. Supporters point to California, which began taking driver’s-license applications last month from illegal immigrants.

Supporters said they aren’t talking about an ID that can be used to board planes but rather a permit similar to what teen drivers are issued. Under such a program, immigrant drivers would take a test and have to have car insurance.

Several lawmakers have filed bills aimed at allowing illegal immigrants to drive legally.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, co-authored a bill that would create a driver’s permit for people who have lived in Texas at least one year, are in the U.S. illegally and haven’t been convicted of a felony.

Two similar bills were filed in the House, including House Bill 68 by Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas. That bill would set up driver’s permits for people with no Social Security number or federal immigration documents who have not been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor.

“We have to find a creative solution,” said Juan Hernandez, who describes himself as a Republican in support of immigration reform. “They are good people. They are working. I don’t see a negative to that. It can be a permit.”

Hernandez, who is from Fort Worth and served as a special liaison to former Mexican President Vicente Fox, said that Texas was “a pioneer” when lawmakers approved in-state tuition for undocumented students and that he expects lawmakers to support the immigrant community again.

“I believe we will do the right thing in Texas,” he said.

‘It affects our community’

Robles has a work permit, which enabled her to obtain a driver’s license. She said many immigrant families want to abide by driving laws in Texas. They want to take the driving tests and pay the fees.

“This is affecting people’s lives and families,” Robles said. “We don’t want to break the laws.”

Robles will attend the Texas Can Do Better event and wants to share her family’s story. She also wants to explain to lawmakers that allowing people to drive legally isn’t a reward for breaking immigration laws.

“I hope it is brought to the floor,” Robles said of the proposed laws.

“It’s not the friendliest legislative session — that’s for sure,” Robles said. “We hope they will see that this is a safety issue, that this is an economic issue.”

Gonzalez-Garcia said she is also her family’s sole legal driver because her husband lacks legal status.

“We have to stand together,” she said. “It affects our whole family. It affects our community.”

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

If you go

▪ Texas Can Do Better, a day of action from immigrant opportunity and government accountability, is at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Texas Capitol, 1300 N. Congress Ave. in Austin.

▪ The event is hosted by the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance

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