By Lauren Ballester, Calvary UMC, Philadelphia
Last June, faith leaders, immigrants, and others concerned about justice, gathered for prayer vigils in front of the offices of Pennsylvania assemblymen John Taylor (R) and William F. Keller (D), who serve as the Chair and Democratic Chair of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee.
The group, which included many United Methodists, turned in 3,000 letters from people of faith asking the representatives to support legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses in Pennsylvania. Many United Methodist faith leaders, including Bishop Peggy Johnson, wrote letters in support of extending the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses to our undocumented brothers and sisters.
One year later, United Methodists continue to work on this statewide campaign to provide much needed grace and care to the undocumented immigrant community. Furthermore, members of the Eastern PA Annual Conference will have an opportunity to vote on a resolution to support driver’s licenses for all, helping us to follow in Christ’s footsteps by welcoming and loving the sojourner among us.
We encourage everyone to join us in this effort to make Pennsylvania a state that allows all its residents to use the roads safely and responsibly.
It is estimated that there are approximately 200,000 undocumented immigrants living in Pennsylvania, many of them United Methodist brothers and sisters. They face the threat of being deported and separated from their families, including citizen spouses and children.
They are often victims of workplace exploitation and fear seeking redress at the risk of deportation. They may be unable to obtain lifesaving medical care or fear seeking medical help for themselves or for their U.S. citizen family members because of fear of deportation.
Again, it is important to remember that many undocumented immigrants have U.S. citizen children or spouses; so U.S. citizens often suffer when separated from parents or spouses because of the deportation of family members. Immigrants, documented or undocumented, are members of our community, fellow Christians, our neighbors, friends, and family.
Supporters say that providing access to driver’s licenses is a key way to help both immigrant and nonimmigrant families in Pennsylvania. How? First, access to licenses will help to make the roads safer for everybody. Making sure that all drivers have licenses means that all drivers have passed driving tests and are able to get insurance.
Second, undocumented immigrants area able to provide for their families by being able to drive to work and drive their children to medical appointments or school. Third, it would decrease family separations because undocumented immigrants would not face deportation simply because they were driving without a license.
A policy of providing access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants helps everyone. Law allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses has already been passed in 12 states across the country. Licenses for all would improve Pennsylvania’s economy by allowing workers to more easily get to work, keep families together by decreasing deportations, and improve public safety by ensuring that all drivers passed a road safety test.
The campaign for driver’s licenses for all in Pennsylvania is gaining momentum with a bill in the PA House (HB 1450) that bears 45 organizational endorsements and public support by over 220 Pennsylvania clergy.
Please join us in this struggle to make Pennsylvania safer and more welcoming.
In the spirit of 2 Corinthians 6:13 United Methodists are invited to pray for and consider the needs of the sojourners in our midst. The campaign, led by the New Sanctuary Movement, is now seeking critical support from all religious denominations, including the UMC. At the Eastern PA Annual Conference, June 2016, members will be able to vote on a resolution in support of the campaign. Prior to the conference United Methodists can support licenses by signing this denominational petition.