VIRGINIA, USA — This year, hitting the road will have a whole new meaning for Virginia drivers who are undocumented.
A new law, which took effect on Jan. 1, gives undocumented immigrants access to driver privilege cards. Beginning Jan. 2, they’ll be able to start the application process through Virginia DMV.
In order to obtain a driver privilege card, applicants need to provide proof of identity and a history of previous tax payments.
Applicants must pass the typical driving tests involved with obtaining a license in Virginia. They also need to have a clean driving record.
The card isn’t the same as a Real ID: it can’t be used for plane travel or to vote.
Karen Pichardo, an 18-year-old who is undocumented and lives on the Eastern Shore, said the new law means she’ll have peace of mind when she drives to school and work daily.
She’s experienced a heightened sense of fear ever since she started driving.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could drive - I was just scared if someone would hit me, they would get the police involved. Even though it would be their fault, I would still get a ticket for driving without a license,” Pichardo explained.
She even feared Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would get involved if she was pulled over for a minor incident.
The new law sparked controversy last year.
Those in support of the bill said it will make Virginia roads safer. Lawmakers who opposed it, said the new cards would help immigrants falsely pass for American citizens.
Pichardo isn’t the only one who lived in fear, driving without a license.
Elvia Sylva, a mother living in Virginia, said she lived in fear while doing simple things like driving her kids to school every morning.
“We’ll feel more secure now,” said Sylva. “Just seeing a police car and not knowing if they’d stop me or not was terrifying. Now, I won’t feel so afraid.”
Pichardo said the new law is long overdue.
“We pay taxes, we’ve been here for 13 years and it feels like we don’t belong here,” said Pichardo.”It’s basically like we’re citizens without any rights.”
Now, she’ll have a legal document to protect her when she gets behind the wheel.
Several advocacy groups such, as Virginia Organizing and New Virginia Majority, are helping those who want to apply.
Applicants may have to wait awhile to obtain their driver privilege cards. Throughout the pandemic, the DMV has experience appointment delays.
A DMV spokesperson said the department is working closely with lawmakers to expand customer service sites.