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Impromptu ‘hearing’ staged on Capitol steps

Group wants state to issue drivers’ licenses to undocumented residents

By Holden Parrish
Idaho State Journal (Pocatello)

BOISE – Activists rallied on the state Capitol steps on Feb. 19 for a proposed bill that was killed last week.

Using the slogan "Justícia Ya!" – Spanish for "Justice Now!" – the protesters, members of the Idaho Community Action Network, said their support of Idaho's undocumented residents was not wasted.

"We're here because this issue is not dead and it will not die until we have justice," said Sam Blair, ICAN's community organizer. Blair and other network members want lawmakers to allow illegal aliens living in Idaho the opportunity to obtain driver's licenses.

Pocatello Rep. Elmer Martinez tendered legislation recently to that effect, but the House Transportation Committee rejected his bill. In doing so, the committee denied it a public hearing, an unjust act in the protesters' eyes.

"For three years now, (lawmakers) have been trying to get a public hearing for this issue, and for the third year in a row, they've been shut out," Blair said.

The activists wouldn't be denied, however. In lieu of a public hearing, they staged their own. They brought several chairs to the rally, each bearing the name of a Transportation Committee representative. Orators spoke as much to the empty seats as to the placard-bearing protesters before them.

"They refused to hear us inside the Statehouse, so we decided to set up our hearing from the outside," ICAN member Adán Ramírez said. "Denying people the opportunity to speak is undemocratic, and Idaho has a growing immigrant community that won't be ignored."

Martinez agreed with Blair's assessment that the issue wouldn't go away. He added that it is not only a human rights issue, but also a safety issue.

"We can't turn our heads to the fact that we have undocumented workers driving on our roads every day," he said.