Thursday, November 29, 2012

Student Reflection

by Megan Creighton

Lobbying for Drivers Licenses For All

Yesterday, November 27th, I went with other community members of La Colectiva, the C-U Immigration Reform, and other community organizations came together to rally in Springfield and lobby in favor of the proposed Driver’s Licenses for All bill. This bill would allow undocumented immigrants to gain legal driver’s licenses with a tax identification number rather than a social security number. For this community, getting driver’s licenses is of great importance--it would allow people who have been living and working here for years to drive their kids to school or go to work without a fear of being pulled over or getting in an accident and consequently going to jail. However, it’s an important issue for all Americans--by limiting the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road, insurance premiums will go down and roads would become safer with more legally licensed drivers that have passed eye exams and driving tests. Detaining undocumented immigrant drivers is an especially extreme measure for people who have committed only minor violations. It is an expensive, unnecessary, and generally inefficient use of Illinois taxpayers’ dollars as well as the police enforcement’s time and resources.

Ever since hearing about this issue, I have been entirely in favor of passing this bill. Whether or not people are willing to acknowledge it, undocumented immigrants do drive and will continue to drive because it is an everyday necessity. They should not have to drive their kids to school in fear that they themselves will be detained, nor should children have to undergo the stress of having a parent be put in jail for an extended period of time because of minor traffic violations.

On Tuesday, I joined about 30 other community activists in a trip to Springfield to convince state representatives to favor this bill. When we arrived at the state capitol, we met up with hundreds of members of ICIRR (Immigration Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights), the Highway Safety Coalition, and many other groups that had arrived from around Chicago. There was such a large turnout of participants that the rally was moved outside the building because we could not fit inside the auditorium of the Illinois State Museum. Outside, two members of ICIRR presented the issue to the excited crowd in both English and in Spanish. They also welcomed three state representatives that were backing the bill: Rep. Skip Saviano (Rep), Rep. Dan Burke (Dem), and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (Dem). Each one spoke briefly about why they were in support of passing this legislation and offered words of encouragement to the crowd who responded with cheers and chants of “Si se puede!” and “Yes we can!”. Rep. Hernandez’ words were especially heartfelt, as she has lived and worked among many undocumented immigrants in the Little Village, “La Villita” of Chicago. She urged us to keep supporting this cause and push forward with our lobbying, “Adelante!” After these representatives spoke, various activist volunteers also told of their experiences driving without licenses, and in several cases of going to jail and having to leave vulnerable loved ones alone. Many in the crowd even shed tears, but in the end we held our signs high and continued to chant, “Si se puede!”

After this rally, those who had come from Champaign-Urbana re-grouped and split into three sections to head to the capitol building and speak with various other representatives. Seeing as this way my first time lobbying, I was surprised by how unorganized and chaotic it seemed to be. Hundreds of other organizers were in and outside the building as well demonstrating for various different causes. When we entered the building, we went up to the third floor in search of other representatives, and were successful in speaking with two. We explained why they should vote in favor of the bill, and some told personal stories of how this would affect them and their loved ones in their daily lives. Both representatives thanked us and said they would certainly look into the issue.

After wandering through masses of people for over two hours, (and getting lost for a fair amount of time!) we were all relieved when we returned to the bus around 2pm. We had done what we came there to do--we showed up in overwhelming numbers to convince our legislators to pass this important bill. On the bus, a woman from the C-U Immigration forum led a discussion in which people reflected on the day, and most agreed that our participation in this lobbying day was very worthwhile. She also addressed issues that pertain specifically to our local Champaign-Urbana community. She said that the police chief of Champaign wants to be more connected and informed by the Campaign Latino community, and that he would love to talk with anyone, regardless of their documents. Most importantly he wants these people to feel safe coming to the Champaign police with questions and concerns, rather than fearing them. Furthermore, she encouraged everyone to attend the C-U immigration meetings, and to join the Facebook group through which local Latino community to communicate. Others chimed in with words of encouragement to stay active and informed as the community itself along with its political influence is growing here and across the country.

For me, this experience was eye-opening and educational. I got to witness and personally get involved in politics and activism, something I’d never really done before, and as an additional perk I got plenty of opportunities to practice my Spanish! Something I had discussed with other participants was the lack of diversity among politicians and workers at the capitol building, and also among activists themselves. Of the five representatives we interacted with throughout the day, four were white men and one was Latina. Activists in our group were primarily Latino, and other lobbying groups were primarily African-American. To me, these distinct demographics are off-putting and problematic because the representative political body does not seem to fairly mirror those on behalf of which it is making decisions. Moreover, we discussed the lack of diversity among our group lobbying for Driver’s Licenses For All. The vast majority of the group was Latino, with a spattering of white and African American participants, which is something that leads people to believe that this bill and immigration reform in general is mostly a “Latino” issue. Truly this is not the case as U.S. immigration policy and reform affects people from all different backgrounds, including non-Latino immigrants and citizens.

Overall, I’m glad I participated in this event, and I hope to see the bill passed in the near future!

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