A bill in the Indiana House of Representatives would grant driver’s licenses to the 100,000 Indiana residents who lack legal documentation, easing the constant fear that accompanies undocumented drivers.
The bill, House Bill 1083, is sponsored by Representatives Chris Campbell and J.D. Ford, and has been introduced for years but has never been scheduled for a vote. The bill was assigned to the roads and transportation committee on Jan. 7, but has yet to be scheduled for public hearing. If it does not receive a hearing, it will be shelved until next year.
Goshen College doesn’t know the exact number of students who are undocumented, said Richard Aguirre, Goshen College Community Impact Coordinator. Aguirre guesses that there are 10-12 undocumented students enrolled at any given time, and that the number of students who have parents or relatives who are undocumented is likely three to four times more.
According to Aguirre, a number of advocacy organizations, including the Indiana Undocumented Youth Aliance, Cosecha Indiana, and Greater Lafayette Immigrant Allies have rallied support for the bill in greater numbers than previous years. But Aguirre is unsure that the efforts will be enough to get the bill to the Governor’s desk.
“In this case, I think it would be hard to think that there’s going to be political will to deal with a bill like this,” Aguirre said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s not value in pushing for something like this because any major social change is not something that happens over night.”
The fear experienced by undocumented drivers comes from the cascade of legal trouble that begins with any encounter with the police that could end in deportation.
“I’ve talked to students who have explained the fear that they have—either with driving themselves or family members who drive—not knowing on any given day whether their parent or family members might get stopped and what might happen as a result of that stop,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre described the way that undocumented drivers often excersize extreme caution when it comes to the care of their vehicles, checking headlights, license plate lights, turn signals, and doing anything else they can to decrease the chance of an encounter with the police.
But even a safe driver can come in contact with law enforcement if they are involved in an accident, whether or not the accident was their fault.
The first time someone is caught driving without a license, they receive a court date, a fine, and a driving ban, Aguirre said. The ban raises the stakes for drivers who rely on their cars to get to work. Those individuals would face escalated action if they were caught during the duration of the ban, which is often one year, explained José Chiquito, a senior sustainability studies major who knows multiple people who have gone through the process.
Aguirre said police in Goshen do not ask about the legal status of the people they pull over, citing a community meeting he organized in September in which police Chief José Miller addressed concerns from a crowd of 200 mostly Latino immigrants regarding driving without a license.
“By and large, [driving without a license] is the kind of offense that could end up getting you deported,” Aguirre said.
15 states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow undocumented people to drive legally, including Illinois.
Aguirre recommends those supportive of the bill voice their support to Brian Bosma, speaker of the House of Representatives.
“These are opportunities we have to show how we support one another,” Perez said.