Minnesota House approves driver's licenses for people in US illegally
The “Driver’s Licenses For All” bill would remove the requirement for license applicants to provide proof of citizenship or lawful presence.
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House of Representatives on Monday, Jan. 30, approved a bill to allow people in the U.S. illegally to obtain a state driver's license.
If signed into law, the “Driver’s Licenses For All” bill would remove the requirement for license applicants to provide proof of citizenship or lawful presence in the country. Twenty years ago Minnesota barred those without legal immigration status from obtaining a license from the state.
Advocates say people in the U.S. illegally will often drive regardless of whether they can obtain a license, and that they shouldn’t be forced to live in fear while getting to work, medical appointments or taking their children to school. They also argue expanding licenses would also mean more vetting for drivers, and insurance for drivers in the U.S. illegally, resulting in safer roads.
"The benefits of allowing all drivers on the road access to driver's licenses and insurance are numerous and clear to the families who are directly impacted, of course, but also to the state at large and to all of us who drive on the roads and to all communities from one end of the state to the other," said Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, who is sponsoring the bill in the House. "Driver's licenses for all is good for public safety. Ensuring that drivers on our roads are insured and licensed, (and) increasing trust between communities and law enforcement are critical to ensuring basic safety and allowing law enforcement to investigate unsolved crimes."
Advocates, Vega and other DFL lawmakers held a Capitol news conference ahead of House floor debate Monday afternoon to stress the importance of passing the bill, which would make around 80,000 people eligible for a license, according to estimates from lawmakers. Hundreds gathered in the Capitol rotunda Monday afternoon, where supporters gave speeches, chanted and danced ahead of the vote.
After nearly five hours of debate, the House passed the bill 69-60 on party lines to cheers and applause from supporters in the capitol rotunda. It awaits another committee hearing in the Senate, though Gov. Tim Walz said he'll sign a proposal that gets to his desk.
The bill enjoys support from a broad group of interests beyond immigration advocates, from areas ranging from law enforcement, labor, business and faith groups. The Minnesota Peace and Police Officers Association and numerous law enforcement agencies from across the state have said they back the bill. Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services also backs the change.
Agriculture groups including the Minnesota Farmers Union and the Minnesota Pork Producers Association submitted letters in support of the bill as well.
Republicans have expressed concerns that the licenses could be used for voter fraud, and attempted to amend the bill to create safeguards. During floor debate Monday, Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, introduced an amendment that would require non-citizen identification cards to be marked "not for voting" on the backside and have a vertical rather than horizontal layout. The amendment failed on party lines.
Other GOP members pointed to a separate bill Democrats are moving through the legislature this session which would create automatic voter registration in Minnesota, creating a system that would likely draw from state driver's license database.
Gomez responded to those concerns that voters must attest to being a citizen of the U.S. when registering and that lying about citizenship would be a felony that could potentially result in deportation. Earlier in the day she characterized voting concerns as a "red herring" distracting from what she said is the focus of the bill: addressing the basic needs of immigrants.
Immigration advocates have been fighting to restore their driving privileges since Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty instituted a proof of lawful admission rule for licenses in 2003. With Democratic-Farmer-Labor controlled state government, restoration of licenses for anyone who can prove state residence is quickly moving through the Legislature.
“Driver’s Licenses For All” would not apply to enhanced driver’s licenses or Real ID, which both require proof of U.S. citizenship. The type of license anyone would be able to obtain would be a noncompliant Class D state driver's license. The bill would also expand the set of documents a license applicant could use to prove state residence. Licenses could not bear any indication of the possessor’s citizenship or immigration status.
Eighteen other states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico currently allow those without legal status to obtain a license. A bill to do the same in Minnesota has appeared several times in the state Legislature, though it did not make it to the governor’s desk when the DFL controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office in 2013 and 2014.
Republicans have stood against the bill in the past and in 2019 tried to cement Pawlenty’s 2003 rule change into state law.
This story was updated at 8:18 p.m. Jan. 30 with the vote. It was originally posted at 4:17 p.m. Jan. 30.
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