This week I have been working on converting my Ohio driver’s license to a Florida driver’s license. I have also been working on a 2016 Florida Annual Conference resolution calling on the state of Florida to give undocumented immigrants (who would otherwise be eligible drivers) the right to apply for a driver’s license. (Note that almost one million unlicensed drivers—15% of Florida’s driving population—are on our roads.)
In honor of that, I would like to share (with permission) the experiences of two South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors clients:
Juan* was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. He had nine brothers and sisters, and his parents found it difficult to provide for them. Juan dropped out of school in sixth grade. When he could not find work to support his family, he came to the United States in search of better opportunities.
Juan arrived in Homestead, FL, and he found a job in the agricultural sector. He needed a way to get to work, but he was afraid to walk every day because he heard that many people were assaulted or robbed. Juan was not able to apply for a driver’s license in Florida because he was undocumented and could not prove his identity using one of the required documents for an immigrant (such as a green card or proof of asylum/refugee status). Since Juan could not obtain a driver’s license, he also could not get car insurance. He bought a car through a friend.
Juan needed to drive for many of the same reasons that I do: to get to work, doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, and church. “If you were in a car accident during that time, would you have fled the scene?” I asked him. “Yes,” he replied, “I did not have a driver’s license or insurance or [immigration] papers, and I was afraid that I would be deported if I got in trouble for driving without a license or insurance.”
Twice when Juan did walk to work, he was assaulted. Because he was a victim of those crimes, he could apply for a U-Visa. Approximately 8 years later, he is now a Lawful Permanent Resident. Juan was also able to apply for a driver’s license, after receiving a social security number and work permit.
I asked Juan if he thought that most undocumented drivers would buy car insurance if they could. “Yes,” he responded, “they will buy insurance if they have a driver’s license and are able to do so. I bought insurance as soon as I could.”
Juan believes that we will all be safer if every Florida driver has the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license, because then every driver will have received proper training and instruction on how to drive; if every driver has the opportunity to get a license, then they will also buy car insurance.
“Now that you have a driver’s license, would you ever consider fleeing the scene of an accident?” I asked. “No, of course not. I would call the police, especially if someone was hurt. I feel safe with a driver’s license.”
Juan also noted the other major benefit of a license: having a form of identification, which is often necessary. “You need an ID for everything, and people struggle without one.”
I also spoke with Gabriela*.
Gabriela is from Guatemala, but she has lived in Homestead for over 11 years. She is undocumented, and she does not drive because she does not have a license. “I am afraid I will get into trouble for driving without a license if I get into an accident,” she said, “but I really wish that I could have a driver’s license. Right now I have to ask for a ride to go anywhere.”
Gabriela cannot walk to many of the places that she needs to access because they are too far away: work, hospitals, doctor’s offices, school, and church. Gabriela is a farmworker who picks tomatoes. As is the case with many farmworkers, whether or not she has work each day depends on the season and on the weather. But sometimes even when there is work, Gabriela remains at home because she cannot find someone who will drive her to the fields.
“I really need to work,” she said, “I have to be able to take care of my children. When I do work, I only make three hundred dollars a week, at most. And there is no work during the off season.”
Gabriela hopes that she will one day have a driver’s license, so that she can drive to work each day without worrying about being ordered deported if she gets into a car accident. “Everyone should have a driver’s license, so that they can drive without fear.”
*Name has been changed