Immigrants await Senate vote
February 15, 2008
Natividad Alvarez says he uses his driving privilege card to get to work.
"People would drive with no driver’s licenses or no driving privilege card," the 29-year-old Park City man said Friday. "It’s something to help immigrants."
But as legislation that would repeal driving privilege cards for illegal immigrants gains speed, Alvarez encouraged state lawmakers to oppose House Bill 239.
"We need to get to work," said Alvarez, who has lived in Park City for almost a decade. "Where is the transportation?"
Utah is one of a handful of states that allow illegal immigrants to drive.
But this week members of the House of Representatives voted 39-35 to repeal driving privilege cards from migrants. The cards would expire Dec. 31 if senators approve HB 239 and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signs the bill.
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Republican Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, who represents Park City, said he has not decided how to vote.
Racial profiling by police officers could increase if driving privilege cards are repealed, said 23-year-old Jose Mederos, in an interview Friday at a Mexican market in Park City.
"Every time a cop sees a Mexican driving, you know they are going to get pulled over because they will think they do not have a license anymore," Mederos said. "Even with Mexicans having driver’s licenses, when cops see a Mexican driving, they are either saying where are the drugs or where are the guns?"
Mederos took a break Friday with his co-worker, an Anglo who feels differently.
Mederos lives in the United State legally but illegal immigrants willing to work for lower wages take jobs from Americans, Wanship resident Robert Watterson said.
"I’m torn on the whole thing. We’re not willing to compromise our lifestyle and for them it’s an upgrade. Where is the middle?" said Watterson. "Jose is a good worker. But there is a line. I don’t know where to draw it and I don’t know where to cross it. On the construction level, the more people who come who become better workers, the more white people worry about losing their jobs."
Many people in his family were issued driving privilege cards, Mederos said.
"I worry about it, if they get pulled over," he said. "Most of the Mexicans need those kinds of things We need them to get around. Without them, they’re just making us break more laws."
Latinos who work in the service industry in Park City cannot afford homes in town, Maderos explained.
"Immigrants have to drive from far away to go to work and take their kids to school. In this kind of weather, it’s not like you can take a bus or walk around," he said. "They are going to keep driving."
Driving privilege cards issued to immigrants who obtain an individual tax identification number allow more motorists to buy insurance, Maderos said.
"Without that, if they get in an accident, it’s going to be worse for them and worse for the other people," he said.
Illegal immigrants suffered another blow on Capitol Hill this week when House lawmakers approved a measure to prohibit those who attend three years of high school and graduate in Utah to pay in-state college tuition costs.
The House voted 40-35 to begin denying in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. Republican Rep. Mel Brown and Democratic Rep. Christine Johnson, who represent Summit County, each voted against House Bill 241.
"They are good people, they are going to the university," Mederos said. "Why take the opportunity from them? It’s not like they’re out on the street. It makes me mad."
McPolin Elementary School counselor Hugo Meza said the law has helped about five Park City High School graduates attend college.
"Don’t we want to have an educated population?" Meza asked. "What if these kids don’t get educated?"
Only a few hundred students statewide benefit from the law, he explained.
"Why are they making such a big issue with this?" Meza said. "It will really hurt our Latino population. They’re going to be more of a hassle for us."
State senators are scheduled to debate HB 241. Visit http://www.le.utah.gov for a schedule of the discussions.