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New law aims to help some immigrants drive legally

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published June 28. 2014 4:00AM   Updated June 28. 2014 11:30PM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Immigrants attend a Licencias de Conducir 2015 event at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London Friday evening. The program is designed to help undocumented immigrants obtain a Connecticut driver's license.

New London - Silvia Masson of Norwich is one of the thousands of undocumented immigrants in Connecticut who drive to work each day without a driver's license because there is no such thing for people like her.

That changes next year with a new law that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for and obtain a state license from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The law passed last year.

Now, Masson plans to be among the first in line and is helping spread the word to all who will listen.

"The reality is, if you want to work, you have to drive," Masson said.

A native of Peru and active in the group Dream United Families in Action CT, Masson was among the 70 people to attend a workshop Friday at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in New London for people hoping to someday drive legally.

The forum featured a Spanish-language PowerPoint presentation, "The Road to Your Driver's License," developed by the Archdiocese of Hartford and being distributed to advocacy groups statewide with input from the DMV.

Arturo Iriarte, parish social ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of Hartford, said the requirements for a license include identification, proof of residency in the state and passage of the DMV's written and driving tests. The written test can be taken in Spanish.

Proof of identity can include a passport or consular identification documents along with a secondary documentation such as a marriage certificate or school transcript. A background check will be performed to verify an applicant has no felony convictions.

The licenses would be marked "for driving purposes only" and would need to be renewed every three years.

"The requirements are simple," Iriarte said, but "fear, lack of education and understanding of the law" among immigrants have led to extremely low numbers in licenses being issued in the dozen or so states that already offer them.

Iriarte estimates that half of the 54,000 eligible undocumented immigrants in the state will not even apply because of the fear of authorities and of possible deportation.

Lizbeth Polo of New London, who said she knows about that fear, has two children who are U.S. citizens. She drives them to school and appointments as needed. Polo heads the Connecticut chapter of DREAMers Moms USA and is fighting for both immigration reform and spreading the word about the new state law. She said New London is home to families from Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia, among other countries.

While existing law in Connecticut prevents police from holding undocumented residents for anything other than serious crimes, undocumented drivers will be fined for not having a license or driving a car that is unregistered or uninsured.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said last year that the driver's license law was important for public safety since it better documents who is driving on state roads and ensures that what they're driving is registered and insured.

There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Connecticut.

Another workshop on the same subject will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at the church.

g.smith@theday.com

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