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Why I Voted “No” on the Bill to Allow Undocumented Immigrants to Get State Drivers Licenses.

May 30, 2013

I am a proud Cuban-American, and I believe in the American dream. My father and grandparents immigrated to the United States after the attempt to rid Cuba of Fidel Castro failed. Before they fled, my grandfather was imprisoned for opposing communism.

Here in America, my family was able to realize the American Dream. They worked hard and achieved success. I saw their work ethic and emulated it. That work ethic helped me to co-found a successful business and helped me get elected to the Connecticut State Senate.

It was a proud day just about five months ago when I held up my right hand and took the oath of office in the Senate Chamber. I was surrounded by my family, and I thanked them for all that they have done for me and for pursuing their dreams here in America.

In America today, our immigration system is broken. It needs to be fixed. I have followed the immigration debate closely in Washington DC. I once worked for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Sen. Rubio is currently leading the effort to craft workable immigration reform in Congress.

Like Sen Rubio, I believe this country is ready to support immigration reform, as long as it is:

  • pro-economic growth
  • strengthens families
  • fosters assimilation
  • prevents another wave of illegal immigration from happening again.

The immigration bill being taken up in the United States Senate is an important starting point in the effort to improve a failed and broken system. The federal legislation is not perfect. Primarily, the complaint seems to be about the size and scope of the bill. But I believe Sen. Rubio proposed it for the right reasons. We can’t leave the system the way it is. The status quo is just as bad.

If Sen. Rubio’s plan passes:

  • People here in this country illegally now who are not paying taxes will be paying income tax and revenue to the government.
  • They will also be given the opportunity to improve themselves, to go up the economic ladder to become net contributors to our economic life in this country as consumers and buyers.
  • Legal immigration, if done right for this country with the proper enforcement mechanisms, should be a net positive for the United States and fuel economic growth.

Passage of immigration reform at the federal level will solve the problem that the State of Connecticut is trying to resolve, and many others as well.

Here at the state level, I am sympathetic to those who note that this is a public safety issue. I agree that we want every driver in Connecticut to prove that they are a safe driver, regardless of where they came from. I care about every person in my state senate district, and I agree that something needs to be done to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows.

But when you do something like this, you have to do it right.

A comprehensive study of this concept would seem to be the appropriate, common sense solution. That study – which could be conducted in a short amount of time – would get any loose ends and inconsistencies cleared up and better prepare our state to implement this legislation. But that study idea was rejected.

I would have liked to have seen safeguards inserted into the bill to protect against fraud and abuse. This bill doesn’t have those safeguards.

Undocumented immigrants seeking licenses should prove they are who they say they are – - just as those of us who are U.S. citizens have to prove we are who we say we are. For example, U.S. citizens must provide original documentation to verify who they are to get their driver’s license. Photocopies and non-certified copies are not accepted by the DMV. Under this bill, that same requirement does not apply for undocumented immigrants.

When I took that oath of office five months ago, surrounded by my family, I thought about all they had gone through to get to this point. During that ceremony, I also made a vow that I would never vote for a bill – however noble its purpose – if I felt uncomfortable about the consequences of my vote.

I appreciate the concept behind this bill and I give tremendous credit to the many advocates who have worked on it. As the son and grandson of immigrants, I share their passion to change the system.

But in the bill I voted on today, the unanswered questions it created were too numerous. The unintended consequences it could create were too vast.

I believe we should take the time to get those questions answered before we set this process in motion. For these reasons, I voted no.