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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

House Backs Migrant License Bill

VPR/Kirk Carapezza

The House has advanced a bill that would allow people who are in the United States illegally to apply for the right to drive in Vermont.

The legislation is designed to improve mobility for migrant workers who are often isolated on Vermont farms.

The bill would create what are described as drivers’ privilege cards. It would allow the state to issue IDs that look different from a regular state license.

Danilo Lopez, an advocate with the group Migrant Justice, works on a dairy farmer in Charlotte. On Monday, he said the bill would help to balance the power between him and his managers.

“I could see it as positive step for both employers and employees because while we as employees will be more independent, employers will also have a load off of their back since now they have to run a lot of errands for us,” Lopez said.

Following the vote, Lopez tapped out celebratory messages on his smartphone, posting them on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.

“It’s been a lot of work that we have done in the last two years,” he explained. “We have a lot of support from the community and we are ready to see this victory through.”

The emotional debate in Vermont has generated a certain level of backlash, as some farm owners – in a last-ditch effort to block the measure – questioned whether Hispanic migrant workers are responsible enough to drive.

Migrant workers, their advocates and lawmakers, though, largely dismissed those concerns.

Still, House Republicans are worried the bill would open driving privileges to everyone who is in Vermont illegally, not just migrant workers.

Credit VPR/Kirk Carapezza
Patricio Antonio Hernandez, who works on dairy farm in Richmond, organizes stacks of messages to lawmakers supporting the bill in the Statehouse cafeteria Monday.

At the Republican caucus Monday afternoon, Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport, criticized sponsors of the bill for backing a measure that doesn’t require applicants show their social security numbers.

“So what do they want to do in substitute of that?” Kilmartin asked. “They want to use a consular card.”

Kilmartin argued the state can’t guarantee the reliability of consular cards from Mexico or Guatemala – the two countries where the majority of Vermont’s dairy workers are from.

Kilmartin also said the drivers’ IDs would pose a security risk. 

“I do not want to wake up in three years and have terrorists using this as a way to get entrance into Vermont and use Vermont as a springboard into any number of terrorist activities,” he said.

The bill clearly states that the drivers’ authorization cards can’t be used for federal identification to enter the country.

The legislation cleared the Senate last month, and is now set to come up for final approval in the House.

Kirk is a reporter for the NPR member station in Boston, WGBH, where he covers higher education, connecting the dots between post-secondary education and the economy, national security, jobs and global competitiveness. Kirk has been a reporter with Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis.; a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad. Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway. You can follow Kirk on Twitter @KirkCarapezza.
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