Arguing to ‘drive without fear’

Arguing to ‘drive without fear’

Rally supports driving rights for undocumented immigrants

Photo by James A. McBride

manholdingboy-webA man carries a tired child after walking from St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in East Camden to City Hall to rally for driving rights for undocumented immigrants.

They walked from East Camden to City Hall, quickly covering the two-mile trip down Federal Street despite the summer heat, to make the point that they can’t walk everywhere.
To work. To the doctor. To school or church or the grocery store. Without a driver’s license, daily life can have innumerable challenges.
The group, that assembled at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral July 7, made the trek to urge City Council to pass a resolution in support of state legislation that would expand driver eligibility to immigrants.
If New Jersey expands driver eligibility for undocumented immigrants, it will join Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Vermont and Connecticut as states that have done so recently. In all, 12 states, and Puerto Rico, now allow undocumented individuals to obtain licenses.
Without the ability to obtain a driver’s license, the 250 marchers argued, immigrants remain in constant fear of separation from their families, through deportment or detention, when they perform routine acts such as driving to work or church, or driving their children to school.
Called “Driving Without Fear,” the event was sponsored by Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP), a faith-based community organization made up of congregations throughout Camden City.
The march began at 6 p.m. at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral, and ended outside City Hall at 7 p.m., in time for prayerful reflection and immigrant testimony.
The march began at 6 p.m. at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral and ended outside City Hall at 7 p.m. with time for prayerful reflection and immigrant testimony.
The marchers wore sneakers and sandals but another Camden resident, identified as Alejandra, wears an ankle bracelet. Her testimony, distributed at the rally, expressed the fear and confusion she experienced as a person who drove illegally, and the continuing problems that ensued.
Four years ago, she said, her vehicle was struck by another. Alejandra claims the other driver ran a red light. Legal problems from the accident have led to a threat to her immigration status.
“A year and a half later, immigration came to my house and arrested me with handcuffs and leg cuffs as if I were a criminal,” she said. Today, she is out of jail but an ankle bracelet tracks her movements. She is uncertain of her future in the United States.
“I do not want to be separated from my family anymore, but my immigration lawyer does not give me hopes of staying in this country,” she said.
“We are here to make our dreams come true, but we need licenses,” she said, summing up the feelings of the marchers.
Supporters for expanded eligibility cite studies showing that the law would allow more immigrants with licenses to stay at the scene of accidents to provide help; allow police to quickly identify immigrants, without checking their record or examining documents in another language; and contribute increased funds for Departments of Motor Vehicles in licensing and registration.
Another advantage is that it would improve public safety, proponents say, arguing that people would have to learn the rules of the road and pass the driving test.
Coming after the July 4 weekend, which marked the nation’s declaration of independence, the event’s timing was fitting, said Sister Veronica Roche, pastoral associate of St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral.
Licenses for immigrants is “an opportunity to renew the soul of our country in the image of its founding – one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all – one nation blessed by God, to be a blessing for others,” she said.
“It is our faith that impels us to be in this struggle,” she said. “To recognize God as Father is at the same time to embrace all God’s creatures as our sisters and brothers.”
On July 8 the City Council postponed action on the License Resolution until next month.

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