The Minnesota House of Representatives on Monday was preparing to vote on a bill to allow people in the U.S. illegally to obtain a state driver’s license.
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. Minnesota created the requirement 20 years ago, barring those without legal status from obtaining a license.
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 that expanding licenses would also mean more vetting for drivers and safer roads as a result.
“We like to highlight the immigrant community because this is what this bill is for,” said Rep. Maria Isa Perez-Vega, DFL-St. Paul. “But let’s also highlight that this is a bill for all Minnesotans’ public safety.”
Advocates, Perez-Vega and other DFL lawmakers held a Capitol news conference ahead of House floor debate Monday afternoon to discuss the bill.
The legislation enjoys support from a broad group of interests, 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 backs the change.
Republicans have expressed concern that the licenses could be used for voter fraud, and have attempted to amend the bill to create safeguards. House bill main author Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, has called those concerns a “red herring” distracting from the purpose of the bill.
There are up to 95,000 people without legal immigration status living in Minnesota, according to the Pew Research Center, and 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. Gov. Tim Walz said he’d sign a bill into law.
“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.
Bill expands documents applicants can use
The bill also would 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.
If the House passes the bill Monday night, its Senate companion still awaits a hearing on the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.