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Lawmakers push new bill to allow licenses for undocumented immigrants

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A group of Rhode Island lawmakers is making another push to pass a law to give driving privileges to undocumented immigrants living in the state.

Identical versions of a new bill have been introduced in both the House and Senate, allowing the Rhode Island DMV to issue “driver’s privilege licenses,” a card that would give a non-legal resident the right to drive, but would not serve as a form of identification.

Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) touted the bill’s strengths at a news conference Wednesday, saying the latest version was modeled after a Connecticut bill that passed in 2015. It requires proof of car insurance and has strict guidelines regarding who can apply for the driver’s privilege license.

“One, you have to be a resident of the state for two years,” Sen. Ciccone said, responding to opponents who believe immigrants from other states would come to Rhode Island to get licenses. “Two, you have to show documentation that you have paid taxes in the state of Rhode Island for the previous two years.”

According to the bill, immigrants without legal residency can use identification such as a foreign birth certificate or passport. In order to prove Rhode Island residency, the applicant would need two forms of documentation: a utility bill, bank statement or homeowner’s insurance policy would do.

Convicted felons would not be permitted to apply for the licenses.

Despite the additional safeguards, opponents who came to the State House event were not convinced.

“If someone breaks into your house, you don’t say ‘well what would you like to eat?’ You say get out of my house,” said William Perry of Cumberland. He came carrying a sign that read “No Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Aliens.”

Juan Garcia with the Immigrants in Action Committee rallied supporters at the State House, arguing that allowing undocumented immigrants to hold licenses — and therefore, have insurance — would make the roads safer.

“To protect your family, my family…all families,” Garcia said.

Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to grant licenses to undocumented immigrants on the campaign trail in 2014. Earlier this year, she said it would be better to have a bill go through the State House than to grant the licenses by executive action.

Under the current proposal, the licenses would start being issued in July 2017. There are no hearings on the bill currently scheduled.

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