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Hearing held on licenses for undocumented immigrants

Esvin Maldonado's voice cracked as he recounted how car trouble ended his son Victor's dream of joining the Air Force.

Esvin Maldonado's voice cracked as he recounted how car trouble ended his son Victor's dream of joining the Air Force.

"I am Guatemalan and live in Chambersburg," Maldonado, a farmworker, testified Friday at a hearing on legislation to allow driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

There is scarce public transportation in his Franklin County town, he said, and that makes it hard for many of the 13,000 Latinos there to get to their agriculture jobs.

About 100 people, some in Lucha pro Licensias ("Fight for Licenses") T-shirts, attended the afternoon gathering at the Lenfest Center in Hunting Park.

In summer 2008, Maldonado testified, his son, a high school graduate who was fluent in English and had the goal of legalizing his immigration status by serving in the military, was driving to work when his car acted up. He pulled over. So did the highway patrol.

When Victor Maldonado could not produce a license and was later revealed as undocumented, he was summoned to immigration court and a month later was deported.

"So that our families stop being separated, we are saying today that it is time that you help us get driver's licenses," Maldonado told the legislative panel, led by State Rep. Leslie Acosta (D., Phila.) and the bill's prime sponsor, State Rep. Mark Cohen (D., Phila.). Also present at the start of the hearing were State Reps. Cherelle L. Parker and Vanessa Lowery Brown (both D., Phila.)

The hearing aimed to gather ammunition for the reintroduction of House Bill 1648, which was offered in 2013 but languished in the transportation committee.

The bill would allow undocumented people, who do not have Social Security cards, to submit a federal tax identification number or a combination of documents, including a valid foreign passport, consular identification, or certificate of birth, marriage, adoption, or divorce, to establish identity. Pennsylvania allowed such usage before 2002, Cohen said.

"It is time to include these immigrants in our society instead of isolating them," he said.

In her testimony Friday, immigration lawyer Djung Tran said she did not condone illegal immigration but understood the "difficult circumstances" that can cause people to enter the United States illegally or overstay visas.

"So long as undocumented immigrants live among us," Tran said, "I believe it is better to acknowledge their presence and provide incentives for positive conduct, [like] getting tested for driving skills and cooperating with law enforcement in the event of an accident."Pennsylvania has an estimated 170,000 undocumented immigrants, although not all are old enough to drive.

Immigration lawyer Don Pak said extending licenses to the undocumented will bring the state millions of dollars in fees, new and used car sales, and car insurance payments. Requiring undocumented immigrants to be photographed and provide verifiable addresses and birth dates also will facilitate background checks, Pak said.

Opponents of the legislation fear that granting driver's licenses to people who have broken immigration laws can lead to national security threats and other problems because licenses are used for identification in so many situations.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have laws permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain regular driver's licenses or specially marked driver's permits that cannot be used for general identification purposes.