As religious leaders representing a variety of faith traditions, we support Gov. Tony Evers’ budget item that provides opportunity for undocumented Wisconsin residents to obtain driver license/identification cards.
Fair treatment and kindness toward immigrants is a constant theme of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. “The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were immigrants in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).” Providing our immigrant neighbors with the opportunity to drive legally and without fear treats immigrants with the same justice, care and compassion that we are instructed to offer all people.
Additionally, there are benefits for all Wisconsin residents.
Fairness and economic benefits: Our immigrant neighbors contribute to our economy just as residents do. Undocumented workers in Wisconsin contribute $72 million annually through various state and local taxes.
Undocumented immigrants across the country support the U.S. Social Security system by approximately $7 billion a year — contributions from which they will never benefit unless their status is changed.
It is estimated that testing and licensing would generate $1.088 million over the first three years as 32,000 new licenses are issued.
New insurance fees would generate $13 million and lower fees for all of us.
Proper licensing means workers are more likely to purchase a motor vehicle and invest in maintenance and upkeep. Mobility will also encourage more spending within the community.
Road safety benefits: Providing our immigrant neighbors with the opportunity to be tested and obtain drivers’ licenses would result in safer roads for all of us.
Twelve states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., currently license undocumented residents.
Statistics from California point to a significant drop in hit-and-run incidents. People are more willing to stay on the scene of accidents, knowing they are legally licensed. Also, they are safer drivers, having completed normally expected assessments of knowledge and skills.
Family security benefits: Anyone who works with or knows children of unauthorized immigrant parents knows the constant worry and fear that these children endure. Every trip in a car means exposure to being stopped for driving without a license. This could lead to deportation and the separation of parents from children.
An estimated 12,000 undocumented residents in Wisconsin have at least one child who is an American citizen. The ability to drive lawfully could provide distinguishable comfort to children living in fear of a parent’s deportation.
Prior to 2007 Wisconsin did allow undocumented residents to obtain legal authorization to drive. The proposed change in policy provides a driver’s card to residents regardless of citizenship status. It does not allow the right to vote or a path to citizenship. However, for the reasons of compassion, fairness and safety this is a good starting point for honoring and supporting our immigrant neighbors.
Please call, write or email your district representatives with a short message of support.
Rev. McKinney is president of JONAH (Joining Our Neighbors Advancing Hope). Twenty-four other JONAH leaders, both clergy and laypeople, also signed the letter.