On Thursday, February 3, the Washington State Legislature Transportation Committee held a public hearing on SB 5407, a bill that would take away the ability of undocumented, tax-paying immigrants to obtain Washington state driver licenses. The bill would make people provide a social security number or proof that they are in the US legally to get a a license. At the public hearing, several organizations including Washington CAN!, OneAmerica, El Comite, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, churches and faith groups, expressed their concerns about the bill.
The groups pointed out that SB 5407 is being framed as an immigration issue – something that the federal, not state, government should deal with. Those in support of the bill talked about the dire state of our economy, and the need to discourage people from coming to Washington. In other words, they want to restrict migration from out-of state, which defeats their argument that the bill is not about immigration.
Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the transportation committee, divided the testimony between two groups. Haugen allowed three people to speak at the time –three in opposition, three in support. This made the process seem balanced, but discontentment grew as opponents of the bill – who far outnumbered supporters – realized that not everyone who wanted to speak would get a chance.
Towards the end of the testimony, people who had not yet been given a chance to speak yet stood up, disrupting the hearing and yelling that the bill “was about immigration.” Sen. Haugen insisted that this bill was not about immigration and declared that there was not enough time to listen to everyone. Right after this, two people were escorted out of the room and the meeting was adjourned. And with that the decision to pass or table the bill was postponed.
People in opposition to the bill were upset that some people stood up and created such a dramatic moment. They were concerned that it would compel senators to pass the bill. This is understandable, but the democratic process gives everyone the ability to people to speak up. We need to make sure, however, that lawmakers like Sen. Haugen do not limit people’s right to express themselves.
Washington CAN! urges people to call their senators and representative to say no to SB 5407, and say yes to safety and family unification.