HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - For Alejandra, a piece of paper from the DMV means a new opportunity and a sense of pride.
On Thursday, the Guatemalan immigrant received a driver privilege card, allowing her to drive to places, such as work and visit her daughter at college without worrying about her legal status if caught driving without a license.
“Si, tenia miedo,” she said in Spanish. “Era muy dificil para mi.”
Her translator said, “She was afraid. 'For me, it was difficult because every time I was driving and I saw police, I was afraid to have problems.'”
The new law went into effect at the start of the new year.
Edgar Aranda-Yanoc is an advocate for immigration policy working as the Senior Lead Organizer at Legal Aid Justice Center. He said undocumented immigrants in Virginia have been pushing for the law for several years.
“They can safely drive in Virginia without fear of being deported because of one traffic violation, or because they are driving without a license,” said Aranda-Yanoc. “This will have an economic impact in Virginia and also our communities will be safer.”
To get a driver privilege card, applicants must prove their identity, have a driving privilege that’s not suspended or revoked and show a history of paying taxes.
They also need to pass the written test and then the road test.
The card cannot be used to board airplanes or vote, but even still, opponents of the legislation believe it could help immigrants falsely pass for American citizens.
“It’s a misunderstanding,” Aranda-Yanoc said. “The system - it is broken. People are coming here because they are fleeing the virus in their countries. They are pursuing a better life.”
For 39-year-old Alejandra, her driver card is a pathway to newfound freedom and a sense of belonging.
“So exciting,” she said. "Now I feel welcomed to Virginia and like I'm part of the community."
Alejandra is thankful to the people who supported the bill. She said the new law was long overdue but well worth the wait.
So far, 282 driver privilege cards have been issued statewide since DMVs started accepting applications on Jan. 2. 2021.