Undocumented workers in Wisconsin would be allowed to obtain driver’s licenses under a proposal from Democrats and one Republican, who said Wednesday the bill was a “common sense” public safety bill.
Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, joined Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee and Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, in introducing the bill. The lawmakers said the issue is not political and simply aims to improve safety on Wisconsin roads while giving undocumented immigrants a form of identification.
“One of the main purposes of the bill is to promote highway safety. The second is to permit undocumented immigrants to drive legally after completing the tests of the DMV,” Risser said at a news conference in the Capitol.
Thirteen other states across the nation have passed similar bills to allow undocumented individuals to obtain a driver’s license, Risser said.
Bies, a longtime Door County deputy sheriff, said as a former police official, the bill makes sense, as it ensures undocumented immigrants who drive have passed the driver’s license tests and understand the state’s driving rules.
Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney echoed Bies, saying driver’s licenses would be identifications for those undocumented immigrants, which is useful for police in situations such as car accidents or traffic violations.
“The absence of a license complicates law enforcement’s efforts to identify individuals,” Mahoney said. “It will allow law enforcement to do their job effectively and more efficiently.”
Zamarripa said providing undocumented immigrants with driver’s licenses would also increase the numbers of people with car insurance.
“Individuals will be more likely to purchase that car insurance which is law here in Wisconsin if they have licenses to drive,” Zamarripa said.
Although it is late in the Assembly’s session, Zamarripa expressed optimism that the bill can still be pushed through before legislators return to their districts.
She said there are numerous bills that have been pushed through committees quickly, so if lawmakers feel the urgency to approve this bill, it can pass before the session ends.
As for getting more Republicans behind this bill, Bies said is a “work in progress,” but Zamarripa said getting even one Republican co-sponsor was a major victory already.
A group of undocumented workers also attended the press conference to show their support for the bill. One of these individuals was Elaina Cruz, an undocumented middle school student.
Although Cruz is not old enough to drive, she described the struggles her community faces without access to driver’s licenses.
“Families get divided, workers get deported all because of something so basic,” she said.
Risser added restricting individuals’ access to driver’s licenses would cause additional economic and social strains on the families of these undocumented workers, saying individuals without a driver’s license are unable to buy groceries or drive themselves to the hospital in an emergency without breaking the law.