Advocates seek driving rights for immigrants

Saturday, November 23, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Advocates for Hispanics and other immigrants plan to seek legislative changes that would allow undocumented workers to drive legally in Missouri.

Dozens of people gathered at nine sites across the state Friday to discuss how to bring immigrants who drive illegally into the state's system, ensuring they have insurance and know state driving laws.

"This proposal will make the roads of Missouri safer by enabling people who are an important part of the work force to get a legal driver's license," said Genaro Ruiz of the Hispanic Economic Development Committee in Kansas City.

Interactive television

The interactive conference was sponsored by University Outreach and Extension and Alianzas, a group that seeks to develop a better understanding of language and cultural differences.

It was held at University of Missouri-Kansas City and linked via interactive television to sites in Springfield, Kirksville, Columbia, Mexico, St. Louis, Sedalia, Reeds Spring and Joplin.

It is the second time the groups have sought to change state law.

Rep. Henry Rizzo, D-Kansas City, sponsored a bill during the last session that would have allowed driver's license applicants to present an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead of a Social Security number. The Internal Revenue Service issues ITINs to illegal immigrants and other immigrants who are ineligible for Social Security numbers.

The bill passed the House but died in the Senate when it failed to reach the floor before the legislature adjourned in May.

Kansas lawmakers also failed to approve a measure to allow undocumented workers to drive legally during last year's session. Advocates wanted legislators to allow noncitizens to receive regular driver's licenses, good for six years, with an IRS tax identification number. Opponents had argued that it could result in residents from other states coming to get a driver's license.

Lynda Callon of the Kansas City Westside Community Action Network Center argued undocumented workers drive anyway. It is wrong that undocumented workers can get a tax I.D. number to pay their taxes, yet they cannot get a driver's license to drive to work, she said.

"We need to come up with some alternative documents that would serve the same purpose," Callon said. "A lot of good people who just want to drive their children to school and go to work or to the doctor are being hurt."

'Not a Latino issue'

Ruiz said efforts are under way to get new House and Senate sponsors to back the bill in the January session. He hoped to gain support from both political parties, as well as from rural and urban areas.

"This is not a Mexican issue. This is not a Latino issue. This is an immigrant issue," Ruiz said.

The issue is important to Hispanics, however, because of the shift in population in the Missouri since 1990. In 25 southwest Missouri counties, the number of Hispanics grew from 7,579 in 1990 to 22,058 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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