By Valeria Pedroza
Last month, on Oct. 3, California Governor Jerry Brown came to the Central Valley and signed AB 60 into law at Fresno City College. This bill, which will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, gives undocumented immigrants the opportunity to apply for driver’s licenses. Speaking in front of the Old Administration Building, Governor Brown enthusiastically addressed the crowd of supporters, “When a million people without their documents drive legally and with respect in the state of California, the rest of this country will have to stand up and take notice. No longer are undocumented people in the shadows.” Among those in attendance were Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Assembly Member Luis Alejo (D–Salinas), who proposed the bill.
AB 60 will require that undocumented drivers take the necessary writing and driving exams as all other drivers, thus making the roads safer for everyone. The bill also makes it illegal for the person’s immigration status to be held against them if pulled over; the fact that the driver does not have legal residency will be noted on the license.
The passing of this bill eliminates the fear of many immigrants who will no longer worry about having their vehicles towed or being given expensive fines for driving illegally without a license. Alejo credited the success of the bill to the grassroots organizations who supported it. The enthusiastic crowd broke off into chants many times during his time at the podium, joyously repeating the familiar “si se puede” slogan, popularized by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, the founders of the United Farm Workers union.
Although the bill will not take effect until more than a year from now, the sentiments among those in attendance were nothing less than ecstatic. Given the fact that more than an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are living in the United States, the next rational step would be to take this movement to the national level—although it will not be an easy course. As was the case for American women and their right to vote, it may take aggressive state-to-state efforts for legalization before this can be possible.
In the meantime, the movement for immigrants’ rights is nowhere near losing steam. Eleven million is a difficult number to ignore. Groups of all nationalities have joined together to form coalitions and organizations pushing for the respect and equality owed to hardworking immigrants and their families.
It is important for Americans to understand that a country built by immigrants must appreciate the work that has been done for the benefit of this country. For those of us who are blessed to live in this country legally, we must use our privilege to contribute to the movement. The undocumented are not helpless, as they’ve shown time and time again that they are willing to fight for their rights.
As citizens and legal residents, we need to use our power to support these movements and elect officials who also do so, by valuing the lives and voices of the many invisible and underappreciated people who help keep this country running. We have to pay attention because those who benefit from our ignorance are counting on our pacifism to keep us from participating in our own lives and that of those in our communities.
Valeria Pedroza is the secretary of POWER at Fresno State and a community activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.