Easton City Council Wednesday night backed legislation pending in Harrisburg that would allow undocumented residents to obtain driver's licenses.
Undocumented residents are already permitted to obtain driver's licenses in 11 states.
Council’s support of House Bill 1648 drew a standing ovation from the audience, some of whom are not legal residents even though they hold jobs and pay taxes.
One man who applauded council was Pablo Escobar, a 35-year-old Argentinian who arrived in the U.S. when he was 1-year-old.
Escobar owns a painting company and his job begins at 6 a.m. and sometimes ends at 8 p.m.
“I’m not looking for a Mercedes Benz,” Escobar said. “Just a driver’s license.”
Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said the legislation, if passed, would give people like Escobar a path to citizenship.
Councilman Jeffrey Warner said the driver’s license issue is a “small step in a larger debate that Congress has refused to move on.”
Desi Burnette, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Fight for Driver's Licenses in Philadelphia, said there are an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania.
Burnette said a survey revealed that 23 percent of undocumented immigrants have lost a job because they did not have a driver’s license, and 81 percent had taken a job with less pay or fewer hours because of the lack of a driver’s license.
City Clerk Tom Hess spoke briefly against the move, saying undocumented workers should be working to become legal citizens and not be awarded privileges after having arrived “through the back door.”
Maryland, Illinois, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, California and Oregon permit residents to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status.
Burnette said New Mexico’s numbers of uninsured residents dropped more than 20 percent in five years after the law was passed.