September 01, 2013

A Life in the Shadows: Problems Facing Undocumented Youth

Angela L. Williams

It may not seem to be a big thing, but it is a small piece of life that we documented people take for granted: the driver’s license. This little plastic card literally has magical abilities. It keeps people out of jail. It keeps family together. There are other very difficult things about being undocumented—having landlords refuse to rent to you without a Social Security Number, having employers take advantage of you because they believe you have no recourse for not being paid, having to work in unsafe conditions, being forced to work overtime—but despite all these difficulties, most people I asked said without hesitation, not having a driver’s license was their biggest worry.

“I still get panic attacks if I am in a car and see a police officer, even if the car is not following me. It is like I can’t get over the fear I used to have driving, thinking today might be the day I don’t get to come home to my family,” said Robert Sagastume, my friend, client, and one of the founding members of the Kansas/Missouri DREAM Alliance (KS/MODA). The vast majority of undocumented people find themselves in removal proceedings because of traffic tickets, specifically their lack of a driver’s license, rather than from a major drug bust or an arrest for a serious crime.

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