A driver’s license is an economic lifeline to a worker who must commute to his job or take his or her American-born children to school. TUWDC played a central role in advocating for DC drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. In 2013 the DC City Council finally passed legislation (DC Drivers Amendment Safety Act of 2013) enabling DC residents to apply for a driver’s license of ID card, regardless of immigration status. With a driver’s license immigrants who qualify can now insure and register their vehicles, thus improving public safety. DMV rules require that an applicant must be a resident of the District of Columbia for six months. These “Limited Purpose Drivers’ Licenses” (LPDL) do not allow the person to use the document to access federal programs or board airlines.
Since May 2014 when the law was implemented, few applicants have received licenses. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Director, over 80% of the applicants who take the written knowledge driving manual test in their own language have failed. Furthermore, there is a huge backlog of 6,000 applicants. The problems are myriad:
Applicants must apply on-line and often have to wait six months to secure DMV appointments
If an applicant fails to qualify or is missing key documents, the applicant must make a second appointment which can take another six months
Many front-line staff do not speak Spanish and have not been trained properly to accommodate this new class of applicant
TUWDC has led a coalition to address these issues. Worked together with community-based organizations, TUWDC has met with government officials to bring attention to some of the problems facing applicants for the LPDL license. The DMV must improve the training of front-line staff and hire more bilingual, bicultural frontline staff. Prior to the initial DMV interview, applicants need to study the Driving Manual which is administered during the first DMV visit. One of the problems has been that the Manual, which has been translated in Spanish, is only available on-line.
In April 2015 the DMV, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) and the Office of Human Rights (OHR) held a training with community-based leaders. The goal was to improve the effectiveness and outcomes of the license credentialing process. Overcoming existing barriers to obtaining drivers’ licenses is a strategic goal for TUWDC.