RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For 14-year-old Kellin Silva, her parents getting driver’s licenses means not being scared to go to the store or the Virginia Capitol.
“You don’t have that fear but we do,” she said, standing between the House and Senate Chambers. “Just to have that simple card has a lot of meaning.”
Silva lives in Winchester, Virginia but her family is from Mexico. “We aren’t bad people as the media says that we are,” she said.
“I think it’s a mistake to give legal documentation to people that are here illegally,” Sen. Mark Peake (R-22) said in an interview on Friday.
Peake said the “strongest argument” in favor of the bill is that requiring people to get insurance and take a driving test to get the credentials could make the roads safer. That said, Peake is concerned undocumented immigrants could abuse the license to vote illegally.
Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) said he has been introducing this bill for the last five years. He said the version that passed in the Senate earlier this week allows undocumented immigrants to get what’s called a “temporary driving privilege card” that needs to be renewed annually. Applicants have to prove their identity, Virginia residency and that they paid income tax in the state for at least a year.
“There’s actually a box at the top that says ‘not for voting,’” Surovell said.
He said the “more aggressive” version of the bill, which passed in the House, would allow immigrants to get a regular Virginia driver’s license instead.
“I think that creates a little bit more risk but in my experience I don’t know many people who want to commit a felony just to cast a vote,” Surovell said.
In the coming weeks, lawmakers will have to come to a consensus on the House and Senate bills. Surovell said he currently doesn’t have the votes in the Senate to pass the version allowing undocumented immigrants to get a regular license.
Surovell said the federal REAL ID, which the state will transition to in October, is off limits under both proposals.
If either become law, Virginia will be the 18th state to legalize some form of driver’s licenses for immigrants, according to Surovell.
An analysis by the Commonwealth Institute said this change could bring more money to the state. It estimates at least 124,000 would apply for the credential, resulting in more revenue for the Department of Motor Vehicles and, potentially, more income tax revenue.
“In terms of the bottom line for tax payers this with probably net somewhere north of 50 to 100 million dollars,” Surovell said.
Gov. Ralph Northam, who has expressed support for the idea in the past, will have to sign off on the bill before it can become law. If passed, it will take effect in January of 2021.