Migrant worker driver’s licenses recommended by study group

A legislative study committee recommended that state lawmakers move ahead with establishing driver’s licenses for undocumented migrant workers over objections from committee chair Sen. Peg Flory, R-Pittsford.

The nine-member committee, made up of human rights advocates, lawmakers and state officials, will deliver a report to the Legislature in January, on whether and how to create driver’s licenses for Vermont’s more than 1,000 migrant workers, who work mostly on dairy farms.

Only Flory objected to issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented migrant workers. She said that issuing licenses identical to those used by Vermont citizens could make already existing licenses lose some validity and value.

Peg Flory. VTD/Josh Larkin

Sen. Peg Flory of Pittsford. VTD File Photo/Josh Larkin

“I have a basic problem with John Q. Public, Vermont citizen, legal Vermont resident, having their license lose some of the validity and some of the value it has right now,” said Flory. “Some type of a driving privilege card, or a different type of license; that makes some sense to me.”

The 8-1 vote on Thursday wasn’t final, since the committee is still ironing out some disagreements over the report’s language, but a consensus emerged for the first time from a majority of members, including Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn and Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ide, supporting legislation to allow undocumented migrant workers to obtain Vermont drivers licenses.

Over the summer, the committee took testimony about similar attempts in other states. New Mexico, Utah and Washington state now issue licenses to undocumented immigrants; Tennessee did so for a period, but then discontinued its program amid concerns that it encouraged identity fraud.

Opponents of the proposal say lowering documentation requirements for residents without lawful immigration status could allow fraudsters to obtain IDs and commit crimes.

“If they [lawmakers] are going to do this, they ought to be careful that they construct it in such a way, that they don’t come into the fraud problems that other states have, that we don’t become the magnet state, for folks that are using – as some states testified – using Vermont just to sort of pass the license through,” Flory said.

Brendan O’Neill, a lead organizer with the social justice advocacy group Migrant Justice and a committee member, dismissed Flory’s concerns.

Danilo Lopez, a migrant worker, comments as a member of the public through translator and Vermont Migrant Justice organizer Natalia Fajardo at the Statehouse in October. VTD File Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana

“In New Mexico and Washington state, they have had [fraud] problems, have taken different measures to reduce fraud, and both have actually had success,” he said. Tennessee’s failed experiment doesn’t worry him, he said, partly because the state simply cancelled its program wholesale, without first testing fraud prevention measures.

In committee, O’Neill said that licenses for migrant workers could be subject to higher standards of proof for in-state residency, or shorter expiration terms, to combat fraud. He fears that an alternative license would facilitate discrimination against migrant workers, by immediately signaling their unlawful status.

O’Neill said Flory’s objections about existing licenses losing their integrity had little basis. “We really need to do a good job to make sure that applicants prove identity and residency. But beyond that, if we’re able to ensure that, then it doesn’t change the value of the license at all.”

He said that he’d worked with state Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Burlington, and House Rep. Mollie Burke, D/P-Brattleboro, who told him they would introduce legislation seeking these licenses in their respective transportation committees next year.

Gov. Peter Shumlin also expressed support for issuing driver’s licenses to migrant workers late last month, in an outline of his administration’s legislative priorities for next year.

After Thursday’s committee meeting, religious, student and labor groups showed solidarity and support for migrant worker licenses, by gathering in the Statehouse’s Cedar Creek Room, accompanied by about 30 migrant workers who turned up specially for the day.

Follow Nat on Twitter @natrudy

Comments

  1. Timothy MacLam :

    What are employers required to pay migrant workers who are not here legally?

    Are “illegal” migrants protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)?

    Does anyone out there know if they get minimum wage? If they do not, where can they complain? Nowhere.

    And are of these people taken advantage of by their employers who do not declare these migrants as employees? That could happen. I have seen it happen with legal migrant workers in other states.

    In the zeal of those who support “illegal” workers the privilege, not right, to have Vermont drivers’ licenses, are they forgetting the vast potential for the exploitation of the same workers and their families by employers? An employer does not have to be malicious to exploit a worker who has no protection under the law.

    • Robert Bailey :

      How does it help ‘exploited’ people to not allow them to have a drivers license?

  2. David Black :

    Why don’t they just show their drivers license from the country that they are from, when needed.
    Why does Vermont have to issue them a license?
    Huuuuuuummmmmmm. That means something stinks here.

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      David…Good point. If someone is visiting from England – with a license from there – would they be allowed to drive in Vermont?

  3. Donald Mac :

    The Constitution of the State of Vermont, in force since 1777, is divided into two Chapters. Chapter 1 is “A Declaration Of The Rights Of INHABITANTS Of The State of Vermont”. Chapter 2 is the “Plan Or Frame Of Government”. Chapter 1 is divided into Articles. Chapter 2, Sections. Chapter 2 Section 66, [Citizenship]states that an “INHABITANT”, having a) resided in Vermont for 1 year and b) taken the Freeman’s Oath, may apply for citizenship. In conclusion, rights outlined in Chapter 1 are for all Inhabitants, who may after 1 year residency, become citizens

    • Jim Busch :

      FYI,

      If you continue reading the Vermont Constitution, a qualification of administering the “Freeman’s Oath” is that they are a U.S. Citizen.

      “”"”
      QUALIFICATIONS OF FREEMEN AND FREEWOMEN

      § 42. [VOTER'S QUALIFICATIONS AND OATH]

      Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the following oath or affirmation, shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state:”

      It is a “Catch-22″.

  4. Craig Powers :

    I have no problem with the licenses being issued.

    I do have a problem with issuing licenses to anyone whose previous driving record cannot be checked and verified. How will the VT DMV insure the safety of our roads if a previous driving record cannot be obtained from the other country? What if the applicant has no previous license, or they have an abysmal driving record in their home country? How will we know? IMHO it will be very difficult to obtain this information.

    • Robert Bailey :

      How is it any different for legal immigrants from, say, Sudan? Should they be denied DL’s for the same reason?

      • Craig Powers :

        If their driving record cannot be verified, then they should not be allowed to drive either. Does not matter if they are here legally or illegally.

        Would you allow a person moving in from NY State, with a suspended license there, to have a license in VT? I doubt you would.

  5. Rod West :

    As a tow service operator, I am concerned about vehicle ownership and insurance requirements. If they are driving a farm vehicle, all should be covered on the farm’s insurance, but there is a huge problem in California with illegals buying junk cars, operating them with no liability insurance coverage, and just dumping them on the tow company when they get in an accident. That is bad for the tow company, but it is far worse for anyone injured in an accident with them or in another vehicle. Will having a license mean that undocumented workers can also register cars in Vermont? If so, I might suggest that their non-resident status be used to mandate insurance with the license (SR-22 like), not the vehicle.

  6. Lester French :

    If they are not here legally they should not be issued a license, period. Become a legal resident, get a license. The comment from Donald Mac should be followed up on. Make it a year and you are in.

  7. Arthur Hamlin :

    I don’t think the State has the right to thumb its nose at federal law by legitimizing people who are here illegally. I realize there are problems with the immigrations system that makes it difficult for Vermont farmers to employ migrant workers, but this is the wrong answer.

  8. Robert Fireovid :

    Maryland used to give drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants but stopped because doing so contravened the Federal REAL ID Act. Further, they found that when a Marylander moved out-of-state, some states required that he/she apply for a new drivers license (e.g., his/her Maryland license was not acceptable proof of identity).

  9. James Maroney :

    Licensing immigrant workers because they help Vermont dairy farms “get their milk to market, allowing our agricultural communities to prosper,” is “poppycock.” Immigrants work on Vermont dairy farms partly because Vermonters won’t do the work but principally because the job offers them a relatively easy path to citizenship.

    Second, we do not have, let alone depend upon migrant workers for, a “prosperous agricultural community.” Our agricultural community is on its uppers. Dairy farms are struggling because (a) the national milk supply is in continuous surplus and (b) the federal government sets the price below what it costs Vermont farmers to make. This is classic economics. Dairy farmers hire migrant workers to help maintain surplus production. The federal government is pleased to have them over produce in order to keep consumer and milk manufacturing prices low. This policy objective goes back to Calvin Coolidge, who signed the Capper-Volstead Act (1922) forbidding dairy farmers from suppressing production in order to raise prices. The farmers’ only response to this connivance has been to consolidate and expand in order to make more milk, driving their prices lower still. After WWII, the introduction of petroleum-based herbicides and artificial fertilizer helped farmers raise production four-fold. The technology works. But it does not save Vermont farmers, who, so long as they insist on making conventional milk, will continue to go out of business. The Vermont legislature passed zoning regulations, Accepted Agricultural Practice rules, preferential income and property tax status and Right-to-Farm laws to protect this mode of farming while ignoring the environmental costs that the unchecked use of toxic chemicals wreak upon our environment, our economy and on our social fabric, including the farms, which, in spite of these laws, continue to go out of business.

    When the governor, therefore, supports licenses for migrant workers on the grounds that our dairy farmers need help getting their milk to market, he is supporting the very forces that have left our agricultural community in tatters: over production, low prices, farm attrition, rural economic decay and lake pollution. Vermont desperately needs a new farming paradigm but licensing migrant workers will only frustrate efforts to achieve it.

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