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bloomington

Bloomington city council passes resolution supporting driver cards for undocumented Indiana residents

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The Bloomington City Council approved a resolution Wednesday urging the Indiana General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow undocumented Indiana residents to obtain a driver card. A driver card would allow undocumented residents living in Indiana to legally obtain drivers licenses and permits, as well as purchase car insurance.  

In a unanimous vote, the council formally urged Bloomington residents to support the passage of this form of legislation, specifically Senate Bill 248, by expressing their support to state legislators. SB 248 would allow undocumented Indiana residents to legally apply for and obtain a driving card. The legislation failed to advance through the Senate Committee on Appropriations in February, but received bipartisan support during committee votes.  

During her presentation prior to the vote, Office of the Mayor Chief of Staff Josefa Madrigal stated the mayor’s office supports and endorses the resolution. Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton issued a press release June 2 calling on the city council to adopt the resolution.  

[Related: Change in Bloomington city code to allow vehicles with six unpaid citations to be towed]

Madrigal said a driver card would allow undocumented residents to engage in basic essential needs.  

“SB 238 will be good for our communities, good for the economy and good for the dignity of our friends and neighbors,” Madrigal said. “They can buy groceries or go to food pantries. This will enable them to go to work and from work, also transporting their children to and from school. They can access basic health care.”

Madrigal said that while receiving a driver card would allow undocumented residents to obtain licenses and permits. It would not allow them to vote, have access to federal assistance, or claim citizenship or lawful residence.  

The resolution states to legally obtain a driver's card, undocumented residents must pass a written test on driving laws and road signs, a vision test and an in-person driving test.  

Madrigal said legislation like SB 248 would benefit many people in the Bloomington community — not only those who would receive the driver cards. She said by providing licenses and permits to undocumented drivers, Indiana can reduce accidents, premiums paid by licensed drivers and promote better relationships with law enforcement.  

[Related: City of Bloomington launches new public records request software]

Ed Rodriguez, spokesperson for La Voz Unida, a non-profit organization advocating for SB 248, also spoke at the meeting. He said previous efforts to provide undocumented residents with driver cards have failed at the statehouse, so La Voz Unida has adopted a grassroots approach by asking local municipality governments to adopt resolutions.  

“We found that legislators at some point tend to hide behind the word ‘constituents,’” Rodriguez said. “’The constituents are saying this and saying that.’ But when we come to the leaders, we find that a resolution is a true symbol of the supporting advocacy that the city has, recognizing the importance of this.”  

Bloomington is the 14th Indiana municipality to pass a resolution in support of legislation that would create a driver card for undocumented residents. According to packet materials for Wednesday’s meeting, Bremen, East Chicago, Elkhart, Evansville, Goshen, Hammond, Ligonier, Logansport, North Manchester, Plymouth, South Bend, Wabash and Warsaw have passed similar resolutions. The Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police, the Insurance Institute of Indiana and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have also endorsed legislation that would provide these driver cards.  

“At this point, we’re here to ask for you to pass this resolution to help them not live in fear of driving,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve met thousands and thousands of families — particularly mothers — who are being pulled over by law enforcement and are being handcuffed in front of their children and taken away to jail simply because they don’t have a document and they need to drive.”   

[Related: 'Catastrophic': The difficulty of addressing severe car crashes in Bloomington]

Councilmember Jim Sims said he supported the resolution because he does not think people should have to live in fear of driving. He connected his perspective on the resolution to his religious beliefs during his comments.  

“People who live in fear from police interactions, from difficulty in accessing food, difficulty in accessing employment — we have to fight that,” Sim said. “That’s not a natural human tendency, fear. That is created by external forces.” 

Councilmembers Dave Rollo and Ron Smith also expressed their support for the resolution during Wednesday’s meeting, describing the legislation as “humane.”  

Councilmember Stephen Volan said SB 248 provides a reasonable accommodation for undocumented residents, who he said are considered residents of the Bloomington community even by the U.S. Census Bureau despite their undocumented status.  

“The country has always needed to acknowledge people where they rest their heads,” Volan said. “They do it to determine representation in Congress — it’s a constitutional mandate. Even if they can’t vote the undocumented are acknowledged as existing by the census and represented by people on this council, in the county, at the statehouse and in Congress.” 

[Related: City council approves joint Human Rights Commission with the county]

Indiana Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-District 40, spoke during the public comment section of the hearing, expressing her support for the resolution and corresponding legislation. While similar legislation has failed at the statehouse, Yoder said bipartisan support for SB 248 means “each year we get a little closer.” She urged the council members to vote for the resolution and said she planned to work with Bloomington residents to pass the legislation. 

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