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New Rules Open Roads To Undocumented Vermonters

Vermont's Department of Motor Vehicles was breaking Vermont law when it searched its records using facial recognition software, Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan says.
Taylor Dobbs
VPR File
An example of a new license available to undocumented Vermont residents, blurred to protect the owner's identity.

Alejandra Perez has already had a lot of experience behind the wheel, so when new legislation made it possible for undocumented Vermonters to get drivers’ licenses January first, she was ready.

Perez said she passed her driving test Thursday with no point reductions. That makes her one of the first to get the new type of license.

When she first came to the states from Mexico, she says she could legally drive in North Carolina. But when she came to Vermont, she found out she wouldn’t be able to drive her newborn twins.

Speaking through an interpreter, Perez said she realized things were different when she tried to get her license and was asked for her Social Security number, “and there I faced the reality here that I couldn’t rent a car, I couldn’t buy a car, I couldn’t look for a job, I couldn’t move freely.”

That changed on Jan. 1, when new rules went into effect allowing Vermont residents without a Social Security number to get drivers licenses.

In her home in Addison County on Wednesday, Perez went over some English phrases she was expected to know for the test.

With just a day left to study, Perez said she was nervous about the added challenge.

“The practical exam is in English,” she said, “and I do understand English when people speak slowly but as people speak fluently I can only pick up some words.”

Despite that nervousness, Perez said she’s excited for the opportunities that come with the new mobility.

“First of all I want to go to school, and after that I’d like to find a job,” she said.

Her husband works on a nearby dairy farm. And now that the twins are old enough for Pre-K education, Perez will have some spare time for school, but many migrant workers in Vermont will use the new licenses to get to work.

The new cards look much like other Vermont drivers’ licenses, with a small red bar at the top that reads “Not For Federal Identification.”

Perez said some of the migrant workers she knows are nervous about the new law, “but I also know of quite a few people who are excited about it and are going through the process and wanting to get their licenses soon, because it’s really sad to be stuck at a farm for hours at a time and sometimes I know of people who run out of food and continue to work even without food.”

Perez said her husband plans to get his license once she’s gone through the process.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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