At least five Eastern PA Conference congregations are supporting a new advocacy campaign calling for valid Pennsylvania driver’s licenses to be made available to undocumented immigrants. That humanitarian campaign for some includes a 40-day vigil of prayer and fasting.
House Bill 2835 has been introduced in the state assembly to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. It would create a non-citizen application for a state driver’s license through a waiver for those who are otherwise eligible but don’t have a Social Security number. Other identifiers, such as taxpayer identification number, may be required.
Licenses granted to non-citizens may contain an indication that the license was issued to a person who is not a citizen. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. These states issue a license if an applicant provides certain documentation, such as a foreign birth certificate, foreign passport, or consular card and evidence of current residency in the state.
The Rev. Evodia Villalva, longtime pastor of El Buen Samaritano UMC in West Chester, is leading her congregation in the campaign effort. She writes:
In the early morning hours of Sept. 13 members of our church gathered in prayer at West Goshen Park, an open-air space in West Chester. We prayed in support of the 40 days of prayer and fasting initiative organized by Driving Pennsylvania Forward. Driving PA Forward is a statewide coalition composed of advocacy, faith, businesses, farmers, labor and community organizations that work together in support of passage of legislation regarding accessibility of a standard driver’s license with strict privacy and data protections for all Pennsylvanians regardless of immigration status.
The prayer and fasting initiative runs Sept. 9 through Oct. 18, and El Buen Samaritano stands in solidarity with this cause, as many in our congregation and community would be directly impacted by the outcome.
May God’s justice “roll on like a river,” as it is written in Amos 5:24. We pray that God’s grace and justice flow over Pennsylvania’s HB2835 state legislation. This legislation makes Pennsylvania’s roads safer when all residents—regardless of their immigration status—can obtain driver’s licenses, register their vehicles, and buy car insurance.
As I reflect on Leviticus 19:33-34 and Exodus 22:20, passages that describe foreigners and strangers sojourning in a land that is not their own, I know God protects those in need and those less fortunate. In many cases immigrant populations are part of this group. God’s Word gives me unwavering confidence that He is at work now, just as He has always been, moving the hearts of residents and rulers so that His will be done and the disenfranchised find favor and grace.
I bless all those who have shown their support of this important state legislation and those who are participating in the 40 days of prayer and fasting. If you would like more information about Pennsylvania’s HB2835 legislation or how to participate in the 40 days of prayer and fasting, please visit: http://drivingpaforward.org/.
The Rev. Luky Cotto, Coordinator of the conference’s Latino Commission, reports that five churches so far are supporting the campaign:
- El Buen Samaritano, West Chester
- Bethany UMC- Ministerio Latino, Lebanon
- Nuevo Nacimiento (New Birth) UMC, Lebanon
- Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit) UMC, Philadelphia
- Historic St. Georges UMC, Philadelphia (which hosts the conference’s new Justice for Our Neighbors immigration legal assistance ministry).
Cotto works with Driving Pennsylvania Forward and numerous other advocacy groups on this issue. She shares information about the “sad human cost” of undocumented immigrants not having a license:
- 84% have to accept a job that pays much more less than usual, far below the minimum wage;
- 81% can’t rent an apt or a house;
- 74% can’t accept a scholarship or better opportunities to study or advance in life;
- 67% of affected children fear their parents may be captured and deported when they drive without a license .
“I think that every person in PA should be allowed to have their driver licenses. It’s a just and fair law, and our roads will be safer,” said Cotto. “I pray and invite all to help us pray, fast and advocate for this legislation HB3825 to pass. Call your State Representative, and tell him or her to support and co-sponsor HB3825; and give the name of the congregation you are calling.
“Heads of families, mothers and young adults won’t have to feel the agony of having to drive to go to work with the fear that a police might stop them, and that they may deported, leaving their families to suffer.”