Raices en Tampa asks City Council to support licenses for all undocumented immigrants

Members of Raices en Tampa and supporters stood before Tampa City Council Thursday morning. They asked the council to vote on a resolution in support of issuing drivers licenses to all undocumented immigrants. While similar laws have already passed in eleven states, Governor Rick Scott vetoed efforts in Florida that would have provided temporary licenses for young adults that qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) passed by President Obama in 2012. DACA provides a temporary two year delay in the deportation of young adults who were illegally brought to this country, but only if they qualify

Scott’s veto was in opposition of a favoring majority from both the House 115-2 and the Senate 36-0. In a statement in the Miami Herald in June of 2013, Scott explains why he vetoed the law. He said, “Deferred action status is simply a policy of the Obama administration, absent congressional direction,” Scott wrote. “Although the Legislature may have been well-intentioned in seeking to expedite the process to obtain a temporary driver license, it should not have been done by relying on a federal government policy adopted without legal basis.”

Raices wants to model their efforts by the recent success in Illinois, where Temporary Visitor Driver’s Licenses (TVDLs) allow foreign individuals to drive. The ID is only valid for driving. Those that qualify include those with lawful immigration status such as, students, long term visitors and spouses and children of temporary workers. Furthermore, Raices en Tampa intends to acquire the support of a law that would provide licenses to all undocumented workers, regardless of age, DACA or TVDLs requirements.

According to Marisol Marquez, Raices en Tampa organizer, members of her group met with each and every member of City Council but Mary Mulhern, and that they all endorsed Raices resolution proposal with the exception of Chair Charlie Miranda. She asked them to publicly support their draft proposal. Unfortunately for them, Councilwoman Yolie Capin said that Marquez should submit the letter to the council office, saying no member had ever received it. Marques says, “Behind closed doors they have been very supportive. It was a shame they were unable to comment on the resolution itself or even comment on the fact that we have been meeting with them.”

Another member of Raices en Tampa, Alekos Zambrano, stresses the fact that their resolution proposal is just a letter of support. “It is so simple and something so moral, I would expect the City Council in its entirety to vote in support," he says. "A no vote on this resolution would be a great disappointment to the community. These are the hardest working people who live with the most fear every day. I want Florida to be a safe place for them to live,” he says.

Marquez says Florida has about two million undocumented farm workers. “Many of them are already on the road; they help make Florida one of the richest states. Many of them are cited, arrested, detained and even deported for simply driving without a driver’s license,” she says. She points out that Tampa would be the very first city in the entire state of Florida to publicly support the people who do not have the ability to have a driver’s license. 

Cielo Gomez, member of the Casa Chiapas, a non-profit organization, says that their efforts for immigration reform are focused on promoting education. "We know that reform requires speaking English, when you apply for certain status.” She says they are teaching English, computer skills and elementary Spanish for those who came here when they were very young. She also believes that driver’s licenses for undocumented workers “is not a privilege, it’s a need. Especially in Tampa, where there is so little public transportation,” she says.

Marquez says that she and several of those who attended and spoke today had to take time off of work and school. She said it's  "unfortunate" that Council meetings take place during working hours. “If we have to escalate our efforts we will," she promises.