Driver’s licenses for all

Wisconsin is experiencing a labor crisis. It is no different than any other state.
All businesses are looking for help. It is estimated that there is a shortage in our state of nearly 45,000 employees, and this shortage is impacting Wisconsin’s agriculture.
Dairy farms, fruit and vegetable farms, cheese plants and meat processing facilities are struggling to get employees who want to work and are committed to working the long hours re-quired.
Wisconsin agriculture generates one-third of our state’s gross domestic product, or $104.8 billion. The dairy industry is $45.6 billion of that GDP, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
That is why we are America’s Dairyland.
Crops from fruit and vegetables are sometimes left to rot in the fields due to worker short-ages. Cows must be milked, fed and taken care of all throughout the day every day. Farms without enough employees have to close.
We all are part of the last of Wisconsin’s dairy farms. There are about 6,000 dairy farms left. Many of us rely on immigrant labor. Last year, Wisconsin lost over 400 dairy farms. Many closures had to do with high input costs, but lack of help was another reason for dairy farmers to call it quits. Without immigrants’ help, we would not have the honor to be America’s Dairyland.
Immigrant labor is everywhere. In the dairy industry alone, many undocumented men and women have left their homeland to work in Wisconsin to improve their lives for their families. Many have traveled thousands of miles, some on foot, through deserts and other harsh environments risking their lives and their children’s lives to escape from unimaginable conditions. Even with all of the dangers they had to endure, it is safer here than where they were.
In Wisconsin, these men and women are not allowed to get a driver’s license. It was not always that way. The law was changed in 2006 with the Real ID law, allowing only people who enter the country legally to obtain a driver’s license.
I’ve been a part of a group of people called Voces de la Frontera. We have been advocating for the restoration of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Nineteen of our neighboring states, including Minnesota, have restored driver’s licenses for all who pass a written and driving test. This license would clearly read “Not eligible for voting.” This reduces the risk of voting fraud.
This process of legalizing driver’s licenses would generate revenue for the state with the associated fees and lower the cost of insurance. With a valid driver’s license, I believe these people would be less likely to leave the scene of an accident and would be more likely to come forward to work with law enforcement, report accidents and report crimes. These people could also be identified by first responders in serious crashes.
Also, I think legalizing driver’s licenses would allow our roads and communities to be safer and more secure knowing who is living and working in our neighborhoods. It would put a name to a face and bring these valued employees out of hiding from fear of law enforcement.
According to the policy organization Kids Forward, as estimated 32,000 Wisconsin residents lack driver’s licenses because of their immigration status, of whom 12,000 are parents of children who are U.S. citizens. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has targeted people stopped for driving without a license for detention and deportation, separating hundreds of Wisconsin immigrant families.
What does a driver’s license do for undocumented immigrants and their families? It allows them a safe way to get to work, to be able drop their children off at school and even go to the grocery store without worrying about a traffic ticket or accident. Children should not have nightmares about law enforcement officers, parents not coming home from work or being detained for getting a traffic ticket or being in an accident. The fear is real. This is not healthy for anyone and is creating unnecessary stress and mental strain for everyone.
We must do better. We need driver’s licenses for all residents of Wisconsin. This will make our roads safer, our communities secure and our neighborhoods more welcoming to all people who work on our farms.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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