With 27-2 vote, Senate backs bill allowing undocumented migrant workers to drive in Vermont

Members of Vermont Migrant Justice gather between testimony before a Statehouse study committee on Wednesday. VTD Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana

Members of Vermont Migrant Justice gather between testimony before a Statehouse study committee on Wednesday. VTD Photo/Nat Rudarakanchana

The Senate gave preliminary approval today to a bill that would allow Vermont’s undocumented workers to drive.

There are between 1,000 and 2,000 migrant workers who stand to benefit from the legislation, most of them coming from Guatamala or Mexico to work on state’s dairy farms.

If the House passes S.38, Vermont would join Washington, Utah, and New Mexico, becoming the fourth state that allows its undocumented residents to drive.

Migrant farmworkers, who have been lobbying for this legislation for nearly two years, say not being able to drive legally prevents them from accessing healthcare and other basic services and leaves them basically stranded in the rural swaths of the state.

On the floor today, several senators voiced lingering concerns about the bill, but the body voted overwhelmingly in favor, 27-2.

The top state officials in the departments of agriculture, motor vehicles, and public safety have all signed off on S.38, and Gov. Peter Shumlin also supports it.

Under S.38, foreign citizens can obtain a “driver’s privilege card” regardless of their legal status. They would need to supply proof of their identity, show that they are Vermont residents, and pass the necessary driving tests.

To avoid encroachment upon the territory of federal law, the “privilege card” will be labeled as such and will contain language making clear that it cannot be used for federal identification.

Several senators said their initial reservations about the bill were put to rest after they saw how thoroughly the Transportation Committee had vetted the issues.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said, “A year ago I would have voted against this bill because I was afraid we were running afoul of federal jurisdiction., I’ve been impressed through the intervening several months that the committee has worked very hard to fashion a compromise to keep us as clear from the federal requirements as possible. ”

Other concerns were that it would foster fraud or create insurance problems.

The string of senators who stood up to support the bill extolled the part migrant workers play in buttressing the state’s dairy industry. Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex-Orleans, likened their isolation on farms to being “a prisoner in place.”

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, a lead sponsor of S.38, said, “There’s a long tradition in Vermont of the hired man… And a lot of times the hired man makes the difference between the make-or-break of the farm. I think it’s fair to say, in 21st century Vermont, this group of workers, migrant workers, are the new hired man.”

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, said S.38 shows that Vermonters respect “people from other lands.” .

“We as a body here have to send a message and that message is we understand the individual plights of people who come to this country, who are coming here because in their homeland they might not be able to make the same wages that they make here.”

Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, sits on the Transportation Committee and chaired a committee that studied the issue over the summer. She cast the lone vote against the license proposal on the summer committee, citing concerns about fraud, and on Friday, she was one of two Senators to oppose the legislation.

Flory sought to turn the focus of the floor debate away from the migrant workers, whose service to the state she said she appreciates.

“This is not a bill for migrant farm workers. There is nothing in here about migrant farm workers. What this bill is about is a way for someone who currently cannot get a license to be able to qualify to get it, regardless of their legal presence.”

Licenses, Flory said, “are not for the convenience of the person seeking a license. They are for the protection of everyone else out on the street.”

The other dissenter, Sen. Norm McAllister, R-Franklin, said he was concerned the bill would jeopardize farmers.

“Living on the border, and also hearing from our farms and their nervousness as to what the liability situation would be, I can’t support the bill.”

Gilberto Lopez, who has been working on a dairy farm outside Montpelier for the last year and a half, said he won’t waste any time getting a privilege card if the bill passes in the House.

“It’s been difficult. There have been instances when I needed to go to the doctor but I haven’t been able to because I couldn’t find someone to give me a ride,” Lopez said.

Danilo Lopez, no relation to Gilberto, is a farm worker and spokesperson for the Vermont-based organization Migrant Justice. He said the vote was an exciting step forward in a drawn-out process.

“We have been working on this for almost two years and we are seeing the fruit of our labor show its product… It’s been an exciting and long path and we are hoping we are getting close to the goal line and we look forward to complete victory soon.”

Alicia Freese

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation. If you have questions or concerns about our commenting platform, please review our Commenting FAQ.

Privacy policy

    Will they be required to have insurance?

  • Why can’t the farmers, or “host families,” if you will, drive them to the doctor?

    It’s the least they could do for these “guests.”

    Ellin Anderson

  • David Dempsey

    The farmers are allowed to hire illegal immigrants at pitiful wages and pay no social security tax. If the state allows them to do this, the farmers should be required to take care of their needs. How can the state allow the farmers to hire illegal immigrants and then allow farmers, as Sen. Starr said, “make them prisoners in place”. There are unemployed people in Vermont who would work on farms if they were paid a liveable wage. If hiring illegal immigrant workers helps keep farmers in business, then shouldn’t non farming businesses be allowed to do the same thing to stay in business.

    • “If hiring illegal immigrant workers helps keep farmers in business, then shouldn’t non farming businesses be allowed to do the same thing to stay in business.”

      A fascinating question.

      One wonders how much further dairy farming can be subsidized and state supported without getting into the realm of pure satire.

  • Rolf Mueller

    Migrant farm workers? Undocumented workers?
    Let me get this straight. Illegal residents are legalized by giving them driver licenses?
    To support the state’s dairy industry?
    Why does the farming industry need support? It cannot exist without illegal residents?
    It cannot exist following the rule of law?

    “There have been instances when I needed to go to the doctor but I haven’t been able to because I couldn’t find someone to give me a ride,” Lopez said.”
    Who is responsible for that?

    Do farmers have to follow any rules in Vermont?


    • Stuart Hill

      There are very few real farms left that are making it on their own. You will however find so called “farms” that survive and even thrive on Federal grants and low interest loans. I’ve seen some of these frauds held up in the press as examples of young mavericks showing the old guard how it’s done.

      Sadly though the press chooses to ignore the simple fact that these “farmers” would be out of business in a matter of months if they had to do business with their own money and taking the same risks legitimate farmers take.

      They do create a lovely little illusion about the viability of agriculture in VT and the great good works being done by the Agency of Agriculture and the USDA-NRCS in Vermont.

      Giving the employment of illegal alien farm workers a smile an a wink is just part of the greater scam. Offering some illusion of protection to the workers like a drivers license is just another part of the show to make the general public fwwl all warm and fuzzy about what’s going on.

  • Dan Luneau

    I am very happy to see this move forward and hope the house has the foresight to pass it. These folks desperately need a legal means to have mobility in order to meet their needs. I was brought up on a dairy farm that employer “hired men”. The work day is long and physically demanding and not to be able to legally drive is not acceptable. Our Vermont farmers are having an impossible time finding people who want to fill these jobs and without these folks be prepared to see our ag community go away or pay much more for food at the grocery store. We cannot have it both ways, take your pick.

  • Dan wrote:

    “These folks desperately need a legal means to have mobility in order to meet their needs.”

    I’m not sure all those needs will be “legal.”


    Last Prostitution-Ring Perp to be Sentenced, but Vermont Migrant Farmworker Sex Scandal Is Not Over Yet [you got that right, buddy]

    Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, a lead sponsor of S.38, said, “There’s a long tradition in Vermont of the hired man… And a lot of times the hired man makes the difference between the make-or-break of the farm. I think it’s fair to say, in 21st century Vermont, this group of workers, migrant workers, are the new hired man.”

    Members of what Anne Coulter has called “a permanent slave class” are hardly a substitute for Vermont’s iconic “Hired Man.”


    The Death of the Hired Man by Robert Frost

    This is the story of a farmer who would sooner have died than hire criminal aliens:


    If America sent its unemployed to colonize Mexico, rather than the reverse, that nation might find itself much improved.

    Ellin Anderson
    Brownington, VT

  • James Maroney

    Since the justification for granting these people drivers licences is that they are needed to work on dairy farms, has the state considered that US dairy farms already produce 12B lbs more milk than consumers demand which is why their price is so low which is why they are failing? The State of Vermont seems to want to prolong the conventional dairy model knowing that it is the proximate cause of farm attrition and lake pollution and knowing that it spent $140M of taxpayers money in a futile attempt to clean up after this industry.

  • Stop blaming the FARMS, people.

    The issue of this thread is how and why the Vermont State Legislature is creating a special, protected class of drivers who can do something that would get you or I taken off the roads: driving without a “real” driver’s license, and possibly uninsured as well. If dairy farms are in such desperate straits, they need a legal seasonal worker’s program, like the one that used to bring cheery Haitians to the local apple orchard back in Massachusetts.

    If a criminal alien hits me — and they have been known to stage accidents for monetary reasons — who pays? With 2,000 (I’ve heard elsewhere it’s more like 5,000) new uninsured drivers on the roads, will my rates specific to uninsured drivers go up?

    I would also like to know if said “migrant” drivers are also immune from arrest and deportation while driving, but not at other times (e.g. while picking beans). This makes absolutely no sense, if true.

    Licenses, [Republican State Rep.] Flory said, “are not for the convenience of the person seeking a license. They are for the protection of everyone else out on the street.”

    Indeed. Moreover, who is going to protect the hapless migrant from himself, out driving alone on Vermont’s notoriously confusing country roads, in rural areas, with unfamiliar rules and signs, possibly in the mud and snow, while sick and, apparently, abandoned by Farmer Jones and family, who are busy pressing out goat cheeses in an attempt to ” create a lovely little illusion about the viability of agriculture in VT.”

    I would like to hear from the farmers themselves as to what they are willing to pay their farmhands. Maybe someone can find a job that way, courtesy of Vt. Digger?

    Ellin Anderson
    Brownington, VT

  • Joyce Travers

    I would like to see a list of those who voted to support this bill. That way the voters of their district know who NOT to vote into another term. This bill will do nothing but open the door to even more legislation giving illegals more rights at our expense. I cannot understand why the people in Montpelier do not want to recognize the word illegal. We have enough people in the state of Vermont who are not working and could surely earn their benefits by working on a farm but instead our lawmakers choose to look the other way at the illegals. I can assure you right now that they will not purchase accident insurance and anyone hurt by them will be absolutely SCREWED. Or do the legislators plan to raise our taxes to cover their auto insurance too? TIME TO VOTE FOR LEGISLATORS WHO REALLY REPRESENT US! Again,I would like to see a list of who voted and how they voted.

    • Jason Farrell


      Ashe (D/P) of Burlington
      Baruth (D) of Burlington
      Benning (R) of Lyndon
      Bray (D) of New Haven
      Campbell (D) of Quechee
      Collins (D) of Swanton
      Cummings (D) of Montpelier
      Doyle (R) of Montpelier
      Fox (D) of South Burlington
      French (D) of Shrewsbury
      Galbraith (D) of Townshend
      Hartwell (D) of Dorset
      Kitchel (D) of Danville
      Lyons (D) of Williston
      MacDonald (D) of Williamstown
      Mazza of (D) Colchester
      McCormack (D) of Bethel
      Mullin of (R) Rutland Town
      Nitka (D) of Ludlow
      Pollina (P/D/W) of Middlesex
      Rodgers (D) of Glover
      Sears (D) of Bennington
      Snelling (R) of Hinesburg
      Starr (D) of Troy
      Westman (R) of Cambridge
      White (D) of Putney
      Zuckerman (P) of Hinesburg


      Flory (R) of Pittsford
      McAllister (R) of Highgate


      Ayer (D) of Weybridge


      • Joyce Travers

        Thank you! There is the list- is your representative on there? Did he/she ask you how you wanted them to vote? Didn’t think so. Lets get them out of office before they make the situation even worse than it already is. I know I’ll be voting and not for the current Washington County Legislators.

  • When I recently moved to Vermont I was relieved to have been able to flee the Mexicanization of California, where the massive Hispanic/Aztec invasion has contributed to the burgeoning of two different kinds of traffic, drug and vehicular, and it’s hard to decide which is worse.

    A mature person can choose to avoid all the heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, and heroine, but you always have to worry that your children might be exposed and become addicted.

    However there’s no escaping the congestion that slows the freeways down to a maddening crawl, and jacks the DMV registration fees through the roof, so the state can afford the increasing road repair costs, especially with half of Mexico hitting Route 5 on Friday afternoons to go south and visit the families they’ve been shipping American dollars to all week.

    I was lucky to be able to drive my pickup truck out of what is fast becoming the third world country, Mexi-fornia, just before my $450 yearly registration fee was due. I registered here in Vermont for $60. I just hope it doesn’t turn into Vermin-tico.

  • Robert Rich

    Lets not forget that the VSP cannot stop hispanics because that would be “profiling”….so here illegally, no habla Ingles, likely no or little insurance, car unregistered and uninspected, nothing to tie them to the community…..VSP afraid to stop them because ACLU will have a field day….What could go wrong?

  • Are you implying that salsa and tortilla are not available in Canada, or that they are not widely served?

    I’m not sure how they would qualify as a means of “oppression,” unless there was absolutely nothing else to eat. (Are there no McDonald’s in Mexico?)

    I am pretty sure, however, that you were attempting to equate Mexican food, which anyone can make, and which many people like, and which may be purchased legally, as far as I know (though some “picante” varieties should carry a warning label!) with Mexican people, specifically, those who have zero respect for America and for the law. This seems rather simplistic, if not insulting, to us and to you.

    Given the lopsided Senate vote on this issue — and they recently displayed, in an unrelated vote, a woeful disconnect from the people they had pledged to serve — you may have received a wrong impression of public support for this issue. The people on this thread are just being honest with you. WE HAVE DONE YOU A FAVOR. For every approval-seeking media-fed lemming, there will be other Vermont citizens just waiting for the illegals to do something that gets them in trouble.

    Go fix your own country, Sénor. I’d rather see a new Juan Péron there than here.

    Ellin Anderson
    Brownington, VT

  • Peter Liston

    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    • I am always glad to see people turning to poetry in order to find the answers. But you left out the name of the author, Emma Lazarus, along with the title and the first three lines of the poem:

      The New Colossus

      Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

      With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

      Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand…..

    • So, shall we just swing the doors wide open and be prepared to accept all teeming three billion of the world’s wretched refuse?

      Fortunately, in view of our realistic assimilation capacity, there are some foreigners who have sufficient pride in their own cultures and home citizenship to want to remain in their countries of birth.

      Those who have no qualms about breaking our immigration laws should be regarded as traitorous opportunists, and thus unworthy of becoming American citizens.

      • Peter Liston

        Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

        One person’s ‘traitorous opportunist’ is another’s ‘hard worker who would sacrifice anything for the well being of his/her family.’

        “He that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” Luke 9:48

  • Vermont farms need:

    A seasonal legal guest-worker program conducted by lottery;
    Summer internships for agricultural college students worldwide, to be paid in credits, room and board;
    Or, a financial incentive to have larger farm families (e.g., forgiveness of 25% of mortgage or other debts per child, in lieu of the various subsidies everyone is complaining about.) This is how farms were sustained long ago.

    Ellin Anderson
    Brownington, VT

  • Peter Everett

    Maybe the Legislators could create a new tax on us “working folk”(what the heck would 1 more new one be, after all their doing to us now) that would provide the needed funds to purchase a 2013 vehicle, provide the $$$ for driving classes, license fees, insurance and gas for them also as well as any other funds they may need. Afterall, isn’t that what the Libs, Progs really want those who work to do? VT’s motto is “Take from those who work and give to those who don’t” (2010 the CATO Institute had VT as the #1 MOOCHER State in the country. That is an honor I wish we didn’t have. That is an embarrassment. Our motto should be “Earn what you own, Own what you earn”.
    That will never happen with those in Montpelier now. We get what we deserve, so don’t complain. Those in power will never lose their positions because they know the voters will never educate themselves. If we ever did do our due diligence, there would be very few incumbents in office. They count on us being Lemmings, believing everything they say. I say “How do you tell when a politician is lying (D, R , I, Prog, any of them)”? Its easy….their lips move.

    • Peter Liston

      Or perhaps we should just treat migrant farmworkers like people.

      Remember Luke 6:31.

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "With 27-2 vote, Senate backs bill allowing undocumented migrant worke..."