In Wisconsin, undocumented residents were allowed to apply for driver’s licenses until prohibitive changes were implemented by the state legislature in 2007. While Democratic Gov. Tony Evers included measures to restore licenses in the previous state budget proposals, Republicans ruled against road safety and stripped those provisions.
While the GOP continues to control the state legislature thanks to their gerrymandering, Evers is not giving up, and has again included the provisions in the upcoming budget proposal. Advocates are commending Evers’ “steadfast commitment to ensuring safe roads and communities across Wisconsin.”
RELATED STORY: Thousands across U.S. rally in support of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrant residents
“Wisconsin is my home,” Hiram Rabadan, an immigrant essential worker from Fond du Lac, said in a Wisconsin Coalition For Safe Roads statement. “My wife and I have raised our children here together, and I’ve worked hard to build my reputation as a trusted local small business owner.” He said that as a mechanic, his job is to ensure vehicle safety. But he said that for years he was blocked from legally driving, “because my status made me ineligible for a drivers license.”
This prohibition is particularly impactful in the state, where thousands of workers lacking immigration status play essential roles in the dairy industry. American Immigration Council estimates that nearly one-quarter of the state’s immigrant population lacks legal status, and in 2018 paid more than $100 million in state and local taxes.
The state legislature’s rejection of licenses for all definitely hasn’t reflected sentiment on the ground. In 2019, nearly 200 businesses shut down in a statewide strike as an estimated 10,000 rallied at the state capital in support of reinstating driving privileges for undocumented communities.
"I'm here as a co-owner of a dairy and an immigrant, I am here because our community needs driver licenses," dairy farmer Omar Guerrero said at the time. "Most dairy workers are Latino immigrants. We should all be able to work, pick up our kids, and get groceries without fear. This will also make the whole community safer. We make this state stronger, and we need driver licenses."
Michael Slattery, a farm owner in Manitowoc, said the policy is “the right thing to do” and “makes economic sense.”
“As a proud farm operator and member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, I can tell you that Wisconsin’s farms are hurting from a labor shortage, and it’s undocumented labor that is keeping our farms running,” Slattery said. “Dairy, the biggest single industry contributor to Wisconsin’s GDP, depends on nearly 8,000 persons without valid driver’s licenses to provide the basis for more than 10 percent of the state GDP.”
Advocates say they’re now set to “educate, persuade, and gain support from all Wisconsinites and looks forward to participating in upcoming Joint Finance Committee Hearing public hearings.” They will hopefully be boosted by recent efforts in other states. In Massachusetts, anti-immigrant forces failed to repeal driver’s license passed by the legislature last year. Lawmakers had overridden Republican Charlie Baker’s veto to pass the Work and Mobility Act earlier that year.
In Minnesota, the state House recently passed a bill expanding driver’s license access. Should it pass the full legislature, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is expected to sign it.
Wisconsin Coalition For Safe Roads noted that approving drivers licenses for all ”would have a major positive impact on all Wisconsinites,” noting “lower insurance costs for all drivers” and “safer roads overall.” The license expansion is part of Evers’ overall plan improving road safety, including rebuilding unsafe roads, improving driver education, and increased penalties for reckless driving. So remember that when Republicans oppose more available driver’s license education and licensing, what they’re saying is they want more dangerous roads.
Minnesota could soon reverse GOP ban that blocked undocumented residents from driver's licenses
Immigrant families in Massachusetts win again, after GOP effort to repeal driver's license law fails
California law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses has made roads safer