Push fails for county support of undocumented immigrants having licenses.

September 10, 2020

Image courtesy of the Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids Facebook page

Push fails for county support of undocumented immigrants having licenses.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — Activists involved in the Movimiento Cosecha organization seeking support from the Oceana County Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution of “driver’s licenses for all” did not get the answer they were seeking Thursday, Sept. 10.

The board took no action on the group’s resolution but instead passed a resolution with a 5-1 vote recognizing “the vital role that legal immigration plays in our community.”

The resolution continues: “…and whereas immigration law is recognized as the pathway for immigrants to obtain and enjoy the privileges and opportunities within the United States. Now therefore be it resolved, the Oceana County Board of Commissioners will continue to practice its commitment to the constitution and laws of the United States of America, State of Michigan, as well as local ordinances and shall not take any action or advocate for action including the DRIVE Safe bills that are contrary to or circumvent any of the aforementioned,” read Commissioner Andrew Sebolt.

Activist Dolores Olivarez, who is an Oceana County resident, said Movimiento Cosecha translates to “harvest movement.” She said similar resolutions have been passed by Michigan school boards, city councils and county boards.

Olivarez said it’s critical for Oceana to pass a resolution due to its large Hispanic population. She said the group has appeared before the commissioners several times.

“They need you, and you need them,” she said to the board. “They are hardworking people.”

“I am concerned about passing a resolution that is in direct opposition to state law,” said Sheriff Craig Mast about the Cosecha proposal. “I am here for the safety of our community and law enforcement. I don’t make the laws — I enforce the laws.”

“I sympathize with these folks and their ideals,” said Sheriff Mast. “I understand they’re by all means necessary, especially to our agricultural community. They’re very much essential parts of our community.”

Support from the board would have shown “appreciation for all these people working here,” Olivarez said. “They’re scared of driving without a driver’s license. If they get caught, they will be deported.” They need driver’s licenses to be able to work and to have transportation to school and medical appointments, she said.

Not only would issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants be good for the families involved, but it would also boost the local economy, she said. Immigrants would be able to purchase cars, buy car insurance and pay Secretary of State of fees.

“Movimiento Cosecha is a national, non-violent movement fighting for permanent protection, dignity, and respect for all undocumented immigrants,” states the organization’s web site.

“After the enactment of Public Law 7 of 2008 and to comply with the federal REAL ID Act, applicants for driver’s license are now required to provide proof of legal presence in the United States,” states the Cosecha resolution. “This requirement directly affects the undocumented immigrant community, because by not being able to provide the documents that prove their legal presence, they are denied the right to obtain a driver’s license in Michigan.

“Oceana welcomes immigrants to grow, harvest and serve our local food; build and maintain our houses; care for our loved ones; and serve us in many other ways. However, we as a society do not invite them to participate in our community,” the Cosecha resolution states.

“As a society, we hypocritically and unjustly keep them as an underclass, separating their families and denying them basic human rights — without a driver’s license they are unable to participate with dignity, fullness and equality in our community.

“…support us in this fight for a driver’s license and vote in favor of the resolution as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and the State Board of Education have done.”

Audience members Bill and Janet Marossey of Benona Township spoke out against the Cosecha proposal. Bill Marossey said he is concerned that the driver’s licenses would be used for voting. “It’s dangerous,” he said.

Janet Marossey spoke about Katie Gowell, 21, of Shelby who died in a traffic crash on her way home from work at 4:30 a.m. in 2003. The driver in the fatal crash was a Hispanic man charged with operating a vehicle under the influence causing death and operating a vehicle on a suspended license causing death. Emanuel Rodriguez was sentenced to 6-15 years in prison.

“Vote ‘no’ in memory of Katie Gowell,” she said.

“We have been on a slippery slope of disregarding laws and not amending them so that we as a country will abide by the rule of law and not allow feelings and emotions and bullying to get in the way of doing what the law states we should do,” said Commissioner Martha Meyette.

Richard Kessler, an immigration attorney in Grand Rapids who said he has represented many Oceana families, addressed the board. “I think that it’s extremely important that this county — like other counties have — urge the State of Michigan to make this important and significant change in state law.”

The requirements to obtain a license would remain the same, such as passing both a written and driving test, but the only requirement that would change is immigration status,” Kessler said. “We’re not talking at all about people being able to vote,” he said.

Other states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Washington DC and New Jersey — allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has stated she supports the cause, the Cosecha resolution states.

“You all know more than I do how important agriculture is in this county,” the attorney said. “We know there is a struggle right now to get employees up here.” Many immigrants choose not to come to Michigan due to the driver’s license issue, he said.

“Many people were placed in immigration deportation simply because they were arrested here in this county because they were driving without a license or an expired license. It’s the number-one cause of deportation in the State of Michigan.”

Commissioner Larry Byl cast the lone dissenting vote on the resolution that passed, and Commissioner Jim Brown was absent.

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