ST. PAUL – The Minnesota House of Representatives is preparing to vote on Monday, January 30, a bill that would allow people in the United States to illegally obtain a state driver’s license.
The Drivers’ Licenses for All bill would remove the requirement for driver’s license applicants to provide proof of citizenship or legal residency in the country. Minnesota introduced the requirement 20 years ago, barring those without legal status from obtaining a license.
Advocates say people in the US often drive illegally, regardless of whether they can get a driver’s license or not, and they shouldn’t be forced to live in fear when they come to work, to doctor appointments, or to their children’s school . They also argue that expanding licenses would also mean more screening for drivers and, as a result, safer roads.
“We want to highlight the immigrant community, because that’s what this bill is for,” said MP Maria Isa Perez-Vega, DFL-St. Paul. “But let’s also emphasize that this is a public safety bill for all Minnesotans.”
Proponents, Vega and other DFL lawmakers held a press conference in the Capitol ahead of Monday afternoon’s debate in the House of Representatives to emphasize the importance of passing the bill.
The bill has the support of a wide range of stakeholders, including the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the St. Paul Police Department. Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services also supports the change.
Republicans have raised concerns that the licenses could be used for voter fraud and have sought to change the law to create safeguards. The House bill’s lead author, Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, has called these concerns “red herrings” that detract from the purpose of the bill.
As many as 95,000 people live in Minnesota without legal immigration status, according to the Pew Research Center, and pro-immigration advocates have been struggling to restore their driving licenses since Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty introduced a rule in 2003 to prove legal eligibility for driver’s licenses.
With the state government controlled by Farmers Democratic Labor, restoring licenses to anyone who can prove state residency is moving quickly through the legislature. Gov. Tim Walz said he would sign legislation.
Driver’s Licenses for All would not apply to Enhanced Driver’s Licenses or Real ID, both of which require proof of US citizenship. The kind of license anyone could get would be a non-compliant Class D driver’s license.
The bill would also expand the set of documents a license applicant could use to prove state residency. Licenses could not contain any reference to the holder’s citizenship or immigrant status.
Eighteen other states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico currently allow undocumented individuals to obtain a license. A bill to do the same in Minnesota has appeared in the state legislature several times, though it didn’t make it to the governor’s desk when the DFL controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office in 2013 and 2014.
Republicans have opposed the bill in the past, and in 2019 sought to cement Pawlenty’s 2003 rule change into state law.
If the House of Representatives passes the bill Monday night, his Senate counterpart is still awaiting a hearing from the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
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