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County Board Backs Resolution for Undocumented Immigrant Driver’s Licenses

Christian Dorsey at Arlington County Board meetingUndocumented immigrants looking for driver’s licenses have found advocates in the Arlington County Board.

The Board yesterday voted 4-0, with one abstention, in favor of a resolution to include its support for undocumented immigrant driver’s licenses among the county’s slate of state legislative priorities next year. Virginia doesn’t allow licenses for undocumented immigrants, but D.C. and Maryland do.

Board Member Christian Dorsey, who supported the legislation, said he doesn’t see any advantage in not allowing all immigrants to obtain a license. He noted that license-holding undocumented immigrants could secure car insurance and commute to jobs more easily, among other benefits.

“We do have a broken federal immigration system that needs to be fixed,” Dorsey said. “But you know what? We also have people who are a byproduct of that system, who are living in Arlington and who want to do the right thing and fully engage in our community.”

Board Member John Vihstadt, who abstained from voting, said he joins his colleagues in supporting immigrants. But Vihstadt said he couldn’t vote in favor of the resolution.

“There may be countervailing concerns, including national security and administrative issues,” Vihstadt said.

Lizzette Arias, interim president for immigrant advocacy group Dreamers of Virginia, said in a statement after the vote that the Board took a “responsible stand” on the matter.

“The undocumented community in Virginia desperately needs access to driver’s licenses,” she said. “For many driving is not a luxurious privilege but a necessity.”

Meanwhile, citing fears among the local immigrant community, the County Board also acted to reassure immigrants of “its commitment as a welcoming community that recognizes, respects and supports the contributions of all of its members.”

From an Arlington County press release:

The Board reaffirmed the long-standing County law enforcement “policy against racial profiling which prohibits our deputies and officers from taking action based solely on that individual’s race, ethnicity or national origin.” And noted that “a person’s right to file a police report, participate in police-community activities, or otherwise benefit from police services is not contingent upon citizenship or immigration status.”

In a statement read by Board Member Katie Cristol, the Board said it was responding to “increased anxiety, fear and panic among our region’s immigrant community,” which the Board attributed to “a number of factors, including federal immigration enforcement actions currently being conducted around the country, as well as the more recent national debate sparked by the 2016 Presidential Election cycle and the United States Supreme Court’s review of the Obama Administration’s Executive Actions on immigration.”

“Arlington County always has and always will be a caring and inclusive community that strives to provide a safe and secure environment where all of our residents have the ability to achieve their potential and live out their dreams,” Cristol said.  “I was disheartened to hear of the concerns in our immigrant community and my colleagues and I wanted to make certain we restated our strong and unequivocal commitment to all of our residents.”

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