Driver’s license debate still packs last-minute controversies

Undocumented dairy farm workers and advocates look on as the Vermont House debates extending driving rights to their community, on May 6, 2013. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Undocumented dairy farm workers and advocates look on Monday as the Vermont House debates extending driving rights to their community. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Republican opposition to driver’s licenses for undocumented workers is mounting, ahead of a final House vote expected tomorrow.

A third and final vote to allow so-called “driving privilege” cards for about 1,500 undocumented dairy workers, here on Vermont’s farms illegally, is set for tomorrow, after a voice vote cleared the legislation for the time being on Monday.

But at a Republican caucus earlier that day, GOP lawmakers from the divided House Transportation Committee, which shepherded the bill, said the legislation has damaging unintended consequences, and grants licenses to all undocumented workers, not just dairy workers.

Reps. Duncan Kilmartin, R/D-Newport, and Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, said identity fraud and national security concerns prompted their opposition.

Kilmartin argued that by not requiring undocumented workers to submit Social Security numbers to the DMV, lawmakers backed a double standard between typical driver’s licenses and these special new privilege cards.

Kilmartin also said that this emotional debate has now reached a significant level of “deceit and disingenuousness,” after hearing another House member, Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, discuss the bill’s minor financial consequences.

“The bill, to be acceptable, should at a minimum require the Social Security number … to be given to the Department of Motor Vehicles,” he said to the caucus. Under the current legislation, applicants may submit two forms of identification, which include an ID card issued by the Mexican or Guatemalan consulate.

“They (those consulates) were unwilling to come up and testify, as to the reliability of their documents,” said Kilmartin, criticizing the vetting process for foreign ID cards. “That’s what they want to replace the Social Security number with.”

Wright said law enforcement officials privately communicated concerns that criminals could obtain the card, and use it as a false ID to facilitate fraud. Others at the caucus, like Jane Clifford, who leads the Green Mountain Dairy Farmers Co-operative Federation, noted that many of her farm members oppose the legislation.

But Democratic support remains robust. Gov. Peter Shumlin wants to give undocumented workers driving rights, and Democrats on the House Transportation Committee all voted to that effect, too. The Senate approved the measure 27-2 last month.

Rep. Molly Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, a bill sponsor, said it would be unreasonable to require Social Security numbers, because many undocumented people lack them.

Still, “we can verify their identity, and their residency,” said Burke, who added that promising 100 percent security against fraud is impossible in this case, as in many others.

Requiring Social Security numbers defeats the purpose of the bill, she said. She said questions about the integrity of foreign ID cards drew “conflicting opinions,” but added that a top DMV official is now in communication with the Mexican consulate in Boston, seeking information on how the consulate verifies identities.

Two other contentious topics, which are likely amendments for tomorrow, include limiting the new cards to agricultural workers only, rather than extending them to all undocumented workers, as well as fingerprinting applicants.

The House Transportation Committee, which has considered these topics already, defeated three amendments late last week, in votes divided largely on party lines.

The committee voted to prevent language that limited the licenses to agricultural workers, required documentation identical to what typical Vermonters now provide, and banned holders using the ID card as official state identification.

In an FAQ sheet produced by Transportation Committee member Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, it’s emphasized that these driving privileges will not bestow voting rights or access to state benefits, or conflict with federal regulation.

The FAQ sheet adds that Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn supports the bill because it partly enhances public safety, by allowing police to identify people more reliably, and by encouraging victims and witnesses of crime to come forward.

House Transportation Chair Pat Brennan, R-Colchester, said his fellow Republicans may have overemphasized the card’s value, reiterating that it simply bestows the right to drive, and requires vetting processes similar to those which typical Vermonters undergo.

Former dairy worker Danilo Lopez, who worked on a Charlotte dairy farm for a year, told reporters that this recent resistance has only made him more determined, and doesn’t shake his confidence that his community will score a victory tomorrow.

“What concerns me is the people themselves, who unfortunately want for our community to continue to be oppressed,” said Lopez through a translator. “The people who are against this have given strength to my community to continue fighting for our rights.”

Lopez is now fighting a federal deportation order, with the help of some lawyers, which makes his future status in Vermont uncertain. One Republican lawmaker at the caucus on Monday expressed surprise that federal agents and the state police hadn’t visited the Statehouse to arrest the undocumented workers, like Lopez, who have lobbied here in recent weeks and years.

Kilmartin said granting such licenses could even facilitate terrorism, arguing that these ID cards could fool people into accepting undocumented workers as legal residents of Vermont.

Republicans asked during the caucus why dairy workers couldn’t simply become legal workers, with Burke responding that Sen. Patrick Leahy had tried and failed for many years to do just that at the federal level.

Nat Rudarakanchana


  1. Rolf Mueller :

    “Republican opposition to driver’s licenses for undocumented workers is mounting, ahead of a final House vote expected tomorrow.”
    As if it would matter.

    The most annoying thing is that Democrats are willing to accept illegal immigrants to support “farmers” who run a business that would have no way to survive in a free market.


    • Kai Mikkel Forlie :

      Nothing about our economy meets the definition of “free market”. What’s your point exactly?

  2. Sarah Miller :

    Wow, this is a really poorly written article. The article makes statements like: “Kilmartin said granting such licenses could even facilitate terrorism..” and then doesn’t do anything to even explain how this makes any sense given that this isn’t a card for anything but driving. Rudarakanchana just basically reprints a stream of consciousness from Republican legislators- terrorism, criminals, uh drunk Mexicans. Journalists don’t just reprint whatever legislators decide to pull out of the air (or their butts), but should have at least some kind of critical eye towards what they’re saying. Even just to check that it’s freaking logical. Please, if we have to read this crap at least write it a little better!

    • Christian Noll :

      Ms Miller,

      Just curious but how many languages do you speak?

      • Karl Riemer :

        Mr Noll,
        just curious but how many toes do you have on your on your left foot? Because that’s pertinent.

  3. mike spillane :

    I understand what this is for but I don’t believe this is right.We in Vermont are right on the U.S border and I.D. security must be as true as can be-this leaves a easy way to confuse the system-and these could be sold on the black market quickly if needed

  4. Joyce Travers :

    “The people who are against this have given strength to my community to continue fighting for our rights.”

    I’m sorry – Your community? Your rights? You are here illegally, you have no “rights”. Just as I would have no rights in your country if I lived there illegally. I truly do not understand this mindset – why would you even think that you have rights here. Is it because you have all but been given immunity from the police now that it is called “profiling” and because you have learned how to get all the aid you want from our state even though you don’t pay the taxes that fund those programs?

    Obviously, Mr. Shumlin does not want to see the long term ill affects of this bill and is pushing it thinking that it will win him votes. Illegal is illegal Mr. Shumlin – get your head out of the sand.

    • Peter Liston :

      The Declaration of Independence codifies the founding American principle that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

      Rights are not given by governments to specific groups of people. They are given by our creator to every human being.

    • Karl Riemer :

      Well, it’s purely an experiment, you understand, not yet proven equal the machinations of small bureaucratic minds, but the United States of America (you’ve heard of it?) was created expressly in refutation of your opinion. The Declaration of Independence claims without equivocation that our rights do not derive from nor depend on government grant but are inalienable and divine in origin. That means they exist before, above and without reference to the laws we create. And who is “our” in “our rights”? That’s less clear because evidence abounds that the general understanding of the time is that only wealthy, white, christian, male landowners were fully human and therefore entitled to human rights, though the definition has since expanded. In other words, legal resident or not, everyone has rights. We hold this truth to be self-evident, at least in this country.

  5. ron krupp :

    There hasn’t been any parity for the Vermont dairy farmer for many years. If farmers were paid a decent return on 100 pounds of milk, perhaps more Vermonters would be willing to work on dairy farms as they would be paid a living wage. On the other hand, I’ve heard time and time again how dairy farmers can’t find local help as people don’t want to do the hard work.

    As it stands, over 60 percent or more of migrant farm workers come from Mexico and they need support like a special driver’s license in order for them to purchase food and go to the doctors. In my Vermont book, Lifting the Yoke, I write about the plight of dairy farmers and difficulty of finding reliable labor. Let’s wake up to reality. I applaud Molly Burke, a representative of Brattleboro for her effort.

  6. Jim H :

    I’m all for extending rights to workers and wholeheartedly support unions and the like. I’m also sympathetic to the plight of the farmer.
    What I can’t get behind is the idea of extending any privileges to persons breaking the law. Why is this discussion even happening in the Statehouse? As a resident and US citizen, I’m expected to abide by the current laws of the land, or be punished.
    Instead, our LAWMAKERS are considering granting additional privileges to people here illegally. People currently breaking the law.
    If the law doesn’t make sense, change it, otherwise abide by it.

    • Jason Wells :

      Even more strange is that our lawmakers are inviting Illegal Aliens into the State House. Heck they even parade them around for the cameras. Where is the Border Patrol??

      • Peter Liston :

        Some see ‘Illegals”. Others see people who will work as hard as they are physically able in order to provide for their families.

        Remember what Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

        • Jim H :

          Everyday we citizens abide by laws because they are the foundations of civilized society. There are desperate, hardworking people all over this country, who also obey the law. Religious doctrine, although it sounds nice and often makes sense, isn’t an excuse to break the law. I don’t agree with all laws, and we should work to change those that don’t make sense. In the meantime, don’t ask me to follow some laws, while other people blatantly ignore them.

          The farmers who employ the illegal immigrants are as much at fault and should be held accountable. They are breaking the law as well.

          Should we all only obey the laws that are convenient to us? What message does this send to law abiding business people in VT when one industry is clearly above the law?

        • Timothy MacLam :

          Some see people and employers not paying appropriate taxes.
          Some see potential for abuse of workers, who because they are illegal, cannot complain. I have seen the deplorable treatment of legal migrant workers. Why does the legislature want to be complicit with the potential for the exploitation of illegal workers? Or does that never happen in minds of liberal legislators or our super-capitalist governor who does not give a damn about the poor and vulnerable?

          • Kai Mikkel :

            Jason and Timothy – what exactly do you have in mind? Should we turn our backs on our agricultural sector by actively taking steps to eliminate their only source of reliable and cost effective labor? Should we let the farms and the land use that goes along with them disappear? Does that make any sense? Sure, those of us that utilize dairy products (which I don’t) in our diets should be paying much more for the privilege but until then a lot of the farmers at work in this State are forced to work with what they have, and that re

          • Kai Mikkel Forlie :

            Jim, Jason, Timothy – what exactly do you have in mind, that we turn our backs on our agricultural sector and the land use that goes along with by actively working to eliminate their only source of reliable labor? Sure those of us who utilize dairy products, and/or local produce, etc. should be paying a lot more for both (to fund the actual costs of production like the damage to the environment, livable wages and comprehensive healthcare and paid leave for staff, etc.) but until this actually happens many farmers in this State have to work with what they’ve got. And this means accepting outside help. And as for changing the law as Jim suggests, exactly how do you propose that tiny Vermont with its two Senators and lone Representative work to change Federal immigration law? Great idea but I don’t see it happening any time soon, meanwhile farms and farmers in this State continue to go out business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of conventional farming techniques, but to abandon so many of our existing farmers in the ways you suggest is just heartless and ignores they valuable ethic they espouse just in being producers. Do any of you dedicate yourselves to buying only local dairy products, produce and other agricultural products? If not, why not? Wouldn’t it make the most sense to put our money where our mouths are and financially support our local farms and farmers? Revenue on the farm (or lack thereof) is the underlying problem here as is decades of disastrous US foreign policy that has contributed heavily to the demise of so much of Mexico’s (as well as other Central American countries) agricultural sector, forcing people to migrate for work. Why overlook the crumbling foundation and instead harass the results of the instability? What is the point?

          • Peter Liston :

            Timothy, if your concern is about, “abuse of workers” then this legislation will only serve to combat this alleged abuse. This gives them greater mobility and freedom to escape such ”potential exploitation’.

  7. Phyllis North :

    Wait, I thought these licenses were supposed to be just for migrant dairy workers, which I could support. Now you are telling me they will be available to any illegal aliens who come to Vermont? We are going to have an explosion of people coming here to get licenses because they are not available to illegal aliens anywhere else east of the Mississippi.

  8. MJ Mullowney :

    Will they be able to leave the state with their new drivers licenses? I agree with Phyllis, illegals could come here to get their licenses (maybe even with false ID since very little documentation will be required), then leave. Will the DMV co-ordinate with Homeland Security?

  9. Jason Wells :

    What about the thousands or probably more than thousands of foreigners who are trying desperately to become U.S. Citizens legally? This is an insult to those who have spent years following the rules. Why bother following the rules right? Just come to Vermont! I am truly ashamed that this bill is even being considered.

  10. Alan Taplow :

    Just what I’d expect from most Republicans — the party of the Dark Side :-)

  11. Jim H :

    Everyday we citizens abide by laws because they are the foundations of civilized society. Religious doctrine, although it sounds nice and often makes sense, is not an excuse in court. I don’t agree with all laws, and we should work to change those that don’t make sense. In the meantime, don’t ask me to follow some laws, while other people blatantly ignore them.
    The farmers who employ the illegal immigrants are as much at fault and should be held accountable. They are breaking the law as well. Should we all only obey the laws that are convenient to us? What message does this send to law abiding business people in VT when one industry is clearly above the law?

    • Timothy MacLam :

      I think the Vermont Department of Taxes should investigate every person known to hire people who lack legal permission to work in this country.

  12. Deb Thayer :

    Those rights that we are all entitled to are for American citizens,people who are here legally. Why are we even having this conversation? Also will Vermont be penalized for breaking some kind of federal law for allowing known illegals to be here, work here and now drive here? Who pays for their insurance?????

  13. David Dempsey :

    Some supporters of issuing licenses to illegal aliens say that opponents of the law are being discriminatory against the illegal workers. Then these same people turn around and say that the licenses should only be given to illegal aliens that work on farms. I can’t understand how so many intelligent people can think that makes any sense at all. Where will the money come from to set up an illegal alien enforcement agency to make sure the illegal aliens that have a legal illegal alien drivers license are actually working illegally on a farm and not working illegally in another line of work. What if they quit the farm and get a job at a restaurant. Then their legal illegal alien drivers license will, heaven forbid, no longer be legal. I guess if you pick and choose which laws you want to enforce or not enforce, what difference does it make who you pick and choose who you do or don’t enforce them. Oh what a tangled web they weave.

  14. Kevin Ryan :

    The article is incorrect in stating that Leahy tried and failed to get dairy workers to be allowed to stay legally. Under the Bush Administration, that was standard operating procedure. Obama changed this, and disenfranchised the workers, because dairy work is “not seasonal’.



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