Across our country, many organizations and leaders are campaigning for policies that treat immigrants with respect. To keep you up-to-date on the latest developments, I’m excited to highlight interviews with some of the movement’s most courageous leaders. I hope their knowledge can inform and inspire your efforts. Today, I’m pleased to bring you an email interview with Shola Ajayi, Advocacy and Elections Specialist for CASA de Maryland. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins carried out the interview.
Join Shola Ajayi in fighting for fair and compassionate immigration reform and welcoming state policies! Beyond this interview, you can learn the latest about immigration reform legislation or take action.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What personally made you interested in immigrant advocacy?
Shola Ajayi (SA): I myself immigrated to the United States as a young child. I was born and raised in Nigeria to an American mother who migrated to Nigeria with my Nigerian father after they wed. This background has always caused me to be empathetic to the reasons why people immigrate and migrate. It also places me between two communities that need to do a little more communicating and I don’t mind facilitating that conversation.
CP: Why is it so important for immigrants to be able to obtain a driver’s license?
SA: For years, our community was trapped with little options. Outside of the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro regions, Marylanders do not have access to effective, reliable public transportation. Those who chose to drive were forced to be criminals. Undocumented residents had to drive without a license in order to pick up their kids from school, go to their jobs and go to the grocery store. Every time they drove on the roads, they drove in fear.
CP: What are some specific examples of how this bill will change the lives of immigrants?
SA: After the bill passed, I called all the members that came down to Annapolis to testify on the bill and their reactions and excitement were truly moving:
“Now that my husband will be able to get a driver’s license, my family’s life will change for the better. My husband will be able to drive himself to work and pick up our daughter at school legally and safely.” — Andrea, Mother and Voter
“I am hard-working and want to become self-reliable. Driving will help me complete the goals I want to accomplish, and contribute to the community that has given so much to me.” — Adelaide, Domestic Worker and CASA Member
“I received my Maryland Driver’s License in 2001. I had already learned to drive in Argentina, where I am from, but I decided to attend Drivers Education. Of course, I knew how to start a car but I wanted to know more. I wanted to learn what the traffic laws were and the meaning of the different road signs. I did not want to have to guess when I was driving in the car with my children. I am so happy I will be able to keep my license…my life depends on moving around. I need my car for my job, my education, for my children’s education, and for our lives.” — Amelia, CASA Member
CP: How was CASA de Maryland a crucial part of the effort behind this bill?
SA: CASA members took to the halls of Annapolis and the Committee Rooms to show their support for the bills. During the session, over 100 CASA members came to Annapolis to meet with their elected officials, share their stories, preform outreach and secure votes. CASA staff also played a critical role in educating community members on the issue and confirming members willing to travel to Annapolis and share their stories directly. CASA’s strong showings at the hearings, along with political support from the bill’s sponsors, Senator Victor Ramirez and House Delegate Jolene Ivey, were vital in moving the Bill out of committee and to the Senate and House floor for debate and the winning final vote.
CP: Do you think the passage of this bill will embolden other states to pass similar legislation?
SA: The extraordinary victory of last year’s ballot question # 4, the DREAM Act, set the background for what was an enormously successful legislative session for Maryland. Once again, Maryland has proven to be a national leader in equipping all residents with the means to live healthy and productive lives and integrate all members of our communities into the strong fabric that holds our state together. I think this momentum is moving across the Nation and more states are passing legislation to embrace all immigrants.