Should the reintroduced legislation opening driver’s licenses to eligible undocumented Minnesotans pass the full legislature and get signed by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, it would make the state 19th in the nation to open licenses to residents regardless of immigration status. Undocumented people in the state have been banned from applying, under a policy implemented by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2003.
While Migration Policy Institute estimates that more than 80,000 undocumented residents call the state home, the American Immigration Council estimates 95,000 undocumented residents. Four percent of kids in the state live in a household with an undocumented family member. But despite paying more than $100 million annually in state and local taxes to help fund public schools, for example, undocumented residents in the state can’t even legally drive their own U.S. citizen children to those public schools.
Technically, undocumented people can get behind the wheel of a car. But this has resulted in a pipeline to deportation, turned over to federal immigration officials after getting pulled over for minor traffic violations. “Some people that dare to drive without driver’s licenses in many cases, they ended up separated from their families because they end up in deportation,” Comunidades Organizando el Poder y la Acción Latina organizer Claudia Lainez told Sahan Journal late last year. “Many families have been separated because of this anti-immigrant law.”
"I am an immigrant, so I understand the struggle immigrant communities are facing right now," Muhamed told CBS News Minnesota. "I want to make sure that everybody who lives in our state, regardless of their status, is protected."
Republicans in Minnesota are rehashing the same unfounded talking points used by Republicans who’ve lobbied against driver’s license access in other states, primarily that it could lead to “illegal voting,” CBS News Minnesota reported. Newsflash to Republican: the call is coming from inside the house.
That “illegal voting” talking point was most recently used by Republican Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, who used it as an excuse to veto driver’s license legislation passed by lawmakers. Thankfully, the state legislature was able to override the veto, passing the bill into law with an effective date of summer 2023. But Republicans weren’t done just yet, gathering enough signatures to put a measure that would repeal the law onto last November’s ballot. That failed too, thankfully.
“Law enforcement agencies across the state appear are overwhelmingly in favor of licenses for the undocumented,” CBS News Minnesota reported. “Their reasoning is that police think anyone who is going to be on the road should have the same training the rest of us have in order to get a drivers license.”
Research has shown that these kinds of bills have reduced hit-and-run incidents, which “often delay emergency assistance, increase insurance premiums, and leave victims with significant out-of-pocket expenses.” Of course, there’s also the peace of mind that comes with lessening the risk of deportation of families that’ve called Minnesota home. Opening licenses to all appears to have the support of Walz, who called the GOP ban “a cruel policy that did nothing good.”
“Our employers need workers. We know that this community works,” Walz said during remarks reported by Minnesota Reformer earlier this month. “Why would we make it more difficult for them to get there safely? Why would we hold back our economy?”
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