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Martha's Vineyard Brazilian students push for immigrant drivers license bill passage

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By John Phelan CC BY 3.0
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The state senate is considering a law that would give undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts a chance to acquire a driver’s license.

And there's interest in the Brazilian community on Martha's Vineyard to pass the bill.

Many students at the regional island high school have sent letters and have gone to the state house to petition lawmakers to pass the legislation.

That includes 17-year-old Amanda Cardoso that moved to the Vineyard from Brazil when she was 12. Cardoso says that only her brother and father in her family have been able to acquire licenses, but that's only because they had to go to Maryland — one of 17 states in the country that allows undocumented immigrants to get a license.

Cardoso says that her father, pretty much every day, has to bring her sister to work early in the morning. Then drive home, pick up her mom, and then drive her to work. Then he has to drive to work himself, before repeating the commute in the afternoon. On top of the rising gas prices, Cardoso says it's a hardship.

It's a hardship that a lot of her friends and students are also experiencing.

That includes Vineyard high school student Guilherme Silva who says that a lot of students there are driving without a license, and risking getting fined, or even arrested.

"We don’t have that option to say, 'no I’m not going to drive,'" Silva told CAI. "There’s not another option to go to school, to go to work, to buy food.”

State house lawmakers in February passed a measure that would allow some undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses by a vote of 126 to 36. Advocates of the bill say that would make roads safer.

Falmouth state representative Dylan Fernandes supports the bill's passage.

"At its heart, this is a public safety bill," Fernandes told CAI. "But it's also about human dignity and respecting your neighbor."

Fernandes says there are studies that show that in the states that have allowed undocumented immigrants access to driver's licenses, hit and run rates have gone down. Also, anyone getting a license will also be required to be trained to operate motor vehicles and pass a safety course.

Some opponents say that the law could encourage illegal immigration, but Fernandes says that similar laws have passed in many republican-leaning states, and there's no evidence that immigration has increased.

Some high-profile republicans have opposed the legislation, including Governor Charlie Baker, who says the legislation in its current form could lead to fraudulent voting.

Brewster representative Timothy Whelan — a candidate for Barnstable County Sheriff — has argued against the bill's passage. According to State House News, he says that many in law enforcement agencies have issue with it. A majority of the state's county sheriffs and district attorneys have come out in favor of the bill, but Whelan says that local police chiefs have not.

The Brewster rep. says it could also be difficult for registry of motor vehicle clerks to certify documentation from other countries.

Senate president Karen Spilka says she supports the effort and wants to move on the bill soon. It could become law by July next year.

Meanwhile, as state lawmakers debate the merits, Amanda Cardoso on Martha's Vineyard says there's not much she can do aside from visit the state house and write letters.

"This is not our country and we just have to deal with it," the high school senior said. "But we can tell people our story and make them understand."