Supporters of undocumented residents being able to get driver’s licenses walk from Spencer Park to Riverside Park to The Bridge Church Tuesday, in hopes of changing Indiana’s laws. Staff photo by Kristi Hileman I Pharos-Tribune
Supporters of undocumented residents being able to get driver’s licenses walk from Spencer Park to Riverside Park to The Bridge Church Tuesday, in hopes of changing Indiana’s laws. Staff photo by Kristi Hileman I Pharos-Tribune
Peter Julian lives and works in Logansport.

He and his family have called this community their home for years. But in their time here, Julian said there is one thing they’ve always lacked – a driver’s license. Absolutely no one in his family – from his parents to his aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as himself – has a way to legally get behind the wheel of a vehicle.

“My family is undocumented,” he explained. “And we’re passionate about this (cause). Having a license would mean so much to my family. It means security for us and no fear of being stopped.”

So on Tuesday, he joined his fellow Cosecha Indiana members on a march from Spencer Park to Riverside Park and ending at The Bridge Church on Linden Avenue. This was the fourth stop in a seven-day, 300-mile “Walk for Licenses” event, which started in Gary and East Chicago on Saturday. Plans are to walk to Lafayette Wednesday and end up in Indianapolis by the end of the week.

“Driving is more than a privilege; it’s a necessity,” said Dominga Cortes, who was born and raised in Mexico, but calls East Chicago home. “We work here and they allow us to buy cars and insurance, so I don’t understand why we can’t have licenses.”

And Cortes said she desperately needs one.

Not only does she need transportation to and from work, but she has a daughter who requires special needs care that is only available in Indianapolis. It’s a 2 ½-hour drive from where Cortes resides, and it’s a trip that she makes for the health and wellbeing of her child. But it’s a trip that is crippled in fear of being caught.

Plus, she said, it saddens her that she cannot help her 18-year-old son acquire a license. Born and raised in the United States, her son, Angel Garcia, was able to get a learner’s permit at 16. However, since Cortes is undocumented, she does not possess the requisite information to help her son obtain his license.

He needs a licensed driver with him when he’s behind the wheel, she said. “And I can’t do that because I cannot sign off on documentation.”

That means her entire family is at a standstill – unless they can change Indiana’s laws.

“In 2007, we got our licenses taken away from us,” she said. “We want them back.”

Sixteen states allow undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. According to Movimiento Cosecha, a national movement fighting for permanent protection, dignity and respect for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., Indiana’s legislature continuously fails to pass laws that would help these individuals.

This year alone, legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants in Indiana to obtain driving cards was introduced as House Bill 1138 and Senate Bill 319. Neither made it out of committee.

“We’re trying to push the urgency of changing these laws,” said Christine Miranda, an organizer with the group. “Driving without a license is the number one way people are stopped by police.”

And Cortes wants that to stop. “The state of Indiana employs immigrants, pays us low wages, and depends on our labor, but they don’t give us a driver’s license to travel to work. How can that be?”

By bringing this issue to the forefront and lifting their voices, she hopes change will be inspired. When the group of approximately 30 people is joined by more during the 5 p.m. meeting at The Bridge, Cortes hopes the fight for this “necessity, not privilege” grows even bigger.

Julian said he’s ready to forge ahead.

“My family is hopeful for change,” he said. “If we could get driver’s licenses, so much could be different. We’d have security, and we could take a vacation out of state.”

And that’s something his entire family desires.
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