About 80 people filed into Fred Lynn Middle School’s auditorium in Woodbridge last week for a roundtable discussion about issues impacting the Prince William’s Latino residents, including proposals from Virginia lawmakers to extend access to in-state college tuition and driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
The “Latino roundtable” was hosted by newly elected county Supervisor Margaret Angela Franklin, D-Woodbridge, on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
Representatives from the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, CASA de Virginia, Edu-Futuro and Tenants and Workers United spoke at the event.
Edu-Futuro Executive Director Jorge Figueredo said proposals to extend in-state tuition and driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants now advancing through the Virginia Assembly are the result of a years-long organizing effort by a broad coalition of groups. Edu-Futuro advocates for immigrant students in Northern Virginia schools.
“We have had to work against many elected officials here in Prince William County. You know that better than anybody how hard they worked hitting our immigrant community in so many different ways at the state and local level,” Figueredo said. “The reason why we have been able to win this year in Virginia is because the majority in the House and Senate is controlled by the Democratic Party.”
A bill proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th, allowing driver privilege cards for undocumented immigrants passed 22-18 on Feb. 11 with all Senate Democrats and one Republican voting in favor of the measure. The bill requires anyone applying for a driver privilege card to present an individual tax return filed with the Commonwealth in the preceding 12 months. It does not permit an individual to waive any part of the driver examination.
Driver privilege cards and permits will state "NOT VALID IDENTIFICATION FOR FEDERAL, VOTING, OR PUBLIC BENEFIT PURPOSES" in bold print on the face of the card or permit.
On the House side, Del. Kathy Tran, D-42nd, proposed a bill permitting undocumented immigrants the ability to acquire driver’s licenses without specific restrictions and removes the citizenship and legal presence requirements for obtaining a driver's license or special identification card. The bill passed the House 57-42, also on Feb. 11.
Community activist Lenka Mendoza, speaking during the roundtable discussion, said the effort to obtain driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in Virginia isn’t finished; lawmakers still have to decide whether to permit driver’s licenses or driver privilege cards.
“The most important thing is that we cannot settle on it. We’ve worked so hard up to this point. And so now we have to make sure we keep our faith strong, keep working on it, so that we can have not a driver privilege, but a driver's license for all,” Mendoza said.
Bills introduced in the House and Senate allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges have advanced as well.
Any student who has attended a Virginia high school for at least two years would be eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities under the proposed bills.
Undocumented students in Virginia are not eligible for in-state tuition unless they are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients under current law. DACA was shut down by the Trump administration in 2017, meaning students who were not able to previously obtain DACA status can no longer apply.
“When they go to college that’s when it hits them because, until now, anyone who has a child who is an undocumented student has to pay out-of-state tuition,” Figueredo said.
Franklin said organizing a community discussion about issues impacting Latino and non-citizen constituents is necessary because the groups make up an important part of the Woodbridge community.
Woodbridge has the second highest Latino population in the county with 21,097, slightly below the Neabsco District, and has the highest non-citizen population of any district in the county, Franklin said.
“You own businesses in this community up and down Route 1 that flourish and help the Woodbridge community flourish. You have kids in our school systems that are performing incredibly well. You give back to your communities by advocating for important issues,” Franklin said. “It is now time for you to have a seat at the table.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org