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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentSenate Committee Advances Bill on Identification Cards for Non-Citizens

Senate Committee Advances Bill on Identification Cards for Non-Citizens

Sen. Saumel Carrion introduces Bill No. 35-0013 to the Committee on Homeland Security, Jusitce, and Public Safety on Wednesday. (Photo by V.I. Legislature)

Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens chaired the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety on Wednesday as members discussed the pros and cons of a bill concerning identification cards for non-citizens.

Sen. Samuel Carrion proposed Bill No. 35-0013, an act allowing for the issuance of limited-purpose identification cards and operator licenses to applicants who cannot prove their legal residence in the United States, or for applicants who do not have a Social Security number. 

The bill further provides that the director of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles shall not use, or disclose to any federal, state, or local law enforcement any motor vehicle record containing personal information, or any personal information, any purposes related to Title 8 of the United States Code without the informed consent of the applicant, a warrant signed by a state or federal judge, lawful court order, or subpoena.  

Sen. Dwayne M. DeGraff sharing his stance during the Committee on Homeland Security, Jusitce, and Public Safety (Photo by V.I. Legislature)

Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, stating that he supports the conversation to give non-legal residents a form of identification card to fast-track the process of becoming citizens, felt the measure should remain “legal.” 

Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger said that ”while discussions are being held in reference to other states passing similar legislation, we as a territory have a smaller number in comparison to the other states with millions of people. We have one police officer to every 36 individuals whereas Rhode Island is one officer to 240  individuals, and New York to Delaware it’s one officer to 192 individuals.”

Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger weighing the Pros and Cons of the matter at hand. (Photo submitted by the Legislature of the VI)

When you’re in a small community it will be easier to collect a database for undocumented individuals, she said. “When a person with one of these IDs gets into a car accident and it gets reported, we can not stop the federal government from deporting that person because we have created a system for them to be deported faster,” she said, adding that it is a protection concern from her perspective. 

Sen. Javan James questioned why the V.I. Police Department, in testimony, recommended a year’s proof of residency as opposed to 90 days for citizens.

Ludrick Thomas, special assistant to VIPD Commissioner Ray Martinez, testified that “a year’s time would be enough for them to learn our laws and the way of territory.” As stated in his testimony, VIPD is in support of this measure.

In her testimony, V.I. Acting Attorney General Carol Thomas-Jacobs made very clear that the license would have to have a specific design to be in compliance with federal law, while VIPD testimony recommended that it should clearly be marked as temporary for a three-year period. 

“The approval of this amendment will affect all residents regardless of their resident status. This will allow anyone applying for a non-REAL ID to produce other documents that the BMV currently cannot accept as qualifying documents,” said Thomas-Jacob. 

Specifically, the provisions of this amendment will allow undocumented residents the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license so that they can drive legally, work to feed their families, present as identification to cash a check, be seen by a physician, take their children to school, obtain vehicle insurance that protects the motoring public, go to the grocery store or even leisure activities. It would also protect the children of mixed-status families who are dependent on undocumented parents.

Sen. Angel Bolques noted 19-21 different states have adopted similar measures that have boosted the economy and decreased poverty rates.

According to testimony, under the REAL ID Act and regulations that govern the act, states that, “[i]n any case in which the State issues a driver’s license or identification card that does not satisfy the requirements of this section, [it must] ensure that such license or identification card — (A) clearly states on its face that it may not be accepted by any Federal agency for federal identification or any other official purpose; and (B) uses a unique design or color indicator to alert Federal agency and other law enforcement personnel that it may not be accepted for any such purpose.” 

Thomas-Jacobs said “based on our research, it appears that the language contained within today’s legislation tracked the REAL ID Act requirements for the issuance of a non-Real ID driver’s license or identification card but may have fallen just short in adding required language. The requirement under subsection A is satisfied; however, the Department would like to see the language of subsection (B) included within today’s legislation so there can be no question that the Virgin Islands is comporting with federal law.” 

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory asked, “Do we need a different definition of a resident for this legislation?”

From the legal counsel’s interpretation, the definition of legal resident would need to be further defined.

Sharing further concerns, Frett-Gregory inquired about the type of documentation that would be needed for this license to be approved. 

The conversation has yet to be had and it has been noted that several amendments to the bill would be needed although the majority stand in support of the measure.

Bill No. 35-0013 passed the committee and will now go to the Committee on Rules, with  and Judiciary for further amendments and actions. 

Sen. Javan James was absent during the voting but present during the closing statements and said, “I stand in support of this bill, as a child of two immigrant parents. However, I am not a member of the committee on Rules and Judiciary. I have faith in my colleagues and pray they there is a group session where we can discuss the amendments, and by the time it reaches to Rules and Judiciary that all government agencies who are impacted by this bill do come back involving the discussion of these amendments. Otherwise, we will be setting up a bad precedent and we will be setting up the governor of the V.I. to pass a bill that may have errors in it, out of fear of backlash from people of this community.”

Carrion, as one of the bill sponsors, thanked the committee for their support as well as additional bill sponsors Sen. Angel L. Bolques Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, and co-sponsors: Marvin A. Blyden and Ray Fonseca. Carrion stated that he looks forward to working together to get the amendments needed for the bill to move forward. “This is not a controversial matter, this is something new,” he said.

Gittens, in closing, said “I am confident that his colleagues will address the other concerns and we will be able to amend this measure in its three steps. This is the first bite of the apple. The next one will be in Rules, and on session day it will be amended a third time.” 

Senators present were Kenneth Gittens, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Javan James Sr., Ray Fonseca, Marvin Blyden, Alma Francis Heyliger, Franklin Johnson, Angel Bolques Jr., Novelle Francis Jr., Carla Joseph, Diane Capehart, Donna Frett-Gregory, and Samuel Carrion.

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