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.”
The resolution, below, states that there is a safety and economic benefit to issuing provisional driver’s licenses to non-citizens.
The resolution directs the County Manager to include support for such a policy in the county’s slate of state legislative priorities next year. Virginia doesn’t have any such law but D.C. and Maryland do.
WHEREAS, Arlington is an exceptionally diverse county with a substantial immigrant population and strives to be a “diverse and inclusive” community; and
WHEREAS, immigrants without driver’s licenses experience a diminished quality of life affecting their ability to hold a stable job, take care of their families, and fully participate in the county they call home; and
WHEREAS, in recent years, new laws have passed that now offer a driver’s license or a provisional license to immigrant residents of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Washington, D.C., and
WHEREAS, these laws reflect a national and collective understanding that offering driver’s licenses to undocumented residents provides an overall economic benefit to states and improves public safety by enabling authorities to know who is on the roads and to ensure that all drivers are properly insured.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Arlington County Board believes that offering driver’s licenses to the undocumented residents of Virginia would benefit Arlington County and the Commonwealth of Virginia and encourages the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to pass a bill and send it to the Governor for consideration.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Arlington County Board directs the County Manager, or his designee, to include this policy in Arlington County’s proposed 2017 General Assembly Legislative Priorities.
It’s not every day you hear someone complementing the way things are done at the Department of Motor Vehicles. It’s also fairly rare these days to hear a progressive Huffington Post blogger saying nice things about the Commonwealth of Virginia, land of the Confederate History Month and the anti-anti-discrimination directive.
But blogger Tamar Abrams was so delighted with her teen daughter’s experience with Virginia’s unique “juvenile licensing ceremony” that she felt compelled to tell the world.
There is one shining beacon of brilliance that I witnessed yesterday in the Arlington County Courthouse and which makes me want, for a moment, to brag about the state in which I’ve resided for 18 years.
Instead of just being handed a shiny new driver’s license at the DMV counter, new drivers under the age of 18 are summoned to appear in family court with a parent. There they watch a driving safety video (narrated by Arlington-born newswoman Katie Couric), hear a talk about teen driving laws, and are finally handed their license by a stern-looking judge.
Abrams wrote that the ceremony left a lasting impression.
It feels good to be proud of my home state, even for a moment. I can’t find any statistics proving that the juvenile licensing ceremony has reduced teen accidents in Virginia, but I know for one teen and her mom it reminded us of the gravity of earning a right to drive.