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Restricted driver's licenses for undocumented Idahoans turned down for year

Proposed legislation aimed to allow undocumented Idahoans to obtain a restricted driver's license in the Gem State, regardless of immigration status.

BOISE, Idaho — Supporters of an idea to introduce a restricted driver's license for undocumented Idahoans now know 2023 will not be their year. The Idaho Senate returned Senate Bill 1081 to committee, effectively killing it for the year.

“A few years ago, we were working on the issue because the community was asking for it to be brought up," Poder of Idaho Estefania Mondragon said. "At the same time, an industry group was also working on the issue. So, we banded together and created a larger tent."

Poder of Idaho is a community organization that advocates and shares resources for the Latino community.

“Few years ago, during the pandemic when we did this, we got 1,200 signatures. This year we got 10,000 and counting. We're still getting petitions," Mondragon said. "So, it's an issue that mobilizes our community, and once that energy is in play, there's no turning it back."

That energy will need to carry into 2024, after SB 1081 failed to get a debate and vote in the Senate.

“I mean, it's frustrating. I understand where they're coming from. You know, there's politics, right, but at the same time, it's hard to see," Mondragon said. "You know, senators play politics with lives of undocumented Idahoans and their families here in Idaho. These people are – I love these are people that are in my family – and, you know, it does get frustrating. But what I know is we're going to transform that frustration into action."

So, why was the legislation passed out of committee only to be sent back?

“We thought we had enough votes to get it through the Senate,  but it sounds like the House is not willing to hear it. So, a vote in the Senate would be, you know, in vain," Mondragon said. "We're hoping that we can create more relationships within the House of Representatives and hopefully get it past the Senate and then into the House in the next few years."

Advocates for the proposal argue it’s about creating opportunities for undocumented workers to get insurance, which holds them accountable on Idaho roads and encourages driver training. It’s also a safety net for a community that contributes greatly to Idaho, but fears a trip driving to the store could end up with severe consequences.

“Americans don't want to work in agriculture or they don't want to work in these really tough jobs, they're not working in the service industry. We saw that with the pandemic, but there's folks that are fleeing desperate situations that are willing to take that work and willing to start from the bottom and climb up," Mondragon said. "I think those are the people that we should want in our communities, because they are willing to pay more in taxes than they get out. Immigrants don't qualify for benefits. So, welfare, Social Security, they don't benefit from that, but they do pay into the system."

Advocates also said they are encouraged by the involvement of Idaho youth on the issue, showing up and testifying in committee for parents, family, and friends who are undocumented and working hard to be a contributor in the community.

Supporters said they will continue to push on the idea, and it’s something crucial for the Idaho Latino community.

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