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MN Debates Drivers' Licenses for Undocumented People


Wednesday, January 11, 2023   

It's been two decades since Minnesota stopped allowing undocumented people to apply for a driver's license. But there's renewed momentum in the Legislature to roll back that restriction.

A House panel heard testimony yesterday for a "Drivers' Licenses for All" bill. The idea has seen heavy debate in recent years but hasn't been able to pass under split state government.

Its supporters feel their chances are better now, with Democrats controlling the governor's office and legislature.

Community organizer with Unidos MN Regina Olono Vidales spoke in support of the plan, and said that in college, it was a barrier for her and other undocumented students.

"People like us live in fear every day," said Vidales. "Just from going to work, to class, to go get groceries, you name it. This is an issue of transportation, accessibility, education, public safety and so much more."

Other supporters who testified included business groups, faith leaders and members of law enforcement. Some note it would provide stability to Minnesota's labor force and make roadways safer.

Republicans who oppose the idea argue it opens the door to illegal immigration and could lead to instances of voter fraud.

But Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers have noted these would be "noncompliant" licenses related to the Real ID Act, meaning they couldn't be used to register to vote.

Francisco Segovia is the executive director of Comunidades Organizando el Poder y la Acción Latina (COPAL MN), which is leading a campaign to get the bill passed in the first 45 days of session. He said opponents have allowed this issue to become politicized.

"A driver's license is basically an authorization or a privilege to be able to operate a motor vehicle," said Segovia. "It shouldn't be an immigration issue here. And everyone benefits from having people driving vehicles with the proper authorization and the proper training."

Segovia said he thinks policymakers need to consider the state's growing Latino population, nearly 40% of whom under age 18.

He said some are growing up in households with parents who can't drive them to after-school activities and appointments, putting them at a disadvantage.

Nearly 20 states already offer driving privileges to people who lack permanent legal status.

Disclosure: COPAL MN contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Environmental Justice, Immigrant Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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