Minnesota House backs immigrant driver licenses

April 05, 2019 05:52 PM

UPDATE: 5 p.m.

The Minnesota House has approved a bill to allow all state residents to obtain driver's licenses regardless of their immigration status.


The 75-52 vote Friday fell largely along party lines, but with a couple Republicans crossing over to join the Democratic majority.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler says the bill would make Minnesota roads safer because immigrants who can't show that they're in the country legally will gain an incentive to learn the rules of the road and carry insurance.

But House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt says it would give special privileges to people who choose to break the laws of the U.S.

House Democrats have also put similar language into their big transportation bill to try to force the Senate Republican majority to negotiate over it.

The Minnesota House is expected to vote on legislation Friday that would provide state drivers' licenses or identification cards to all Minnesotans - regardless of their immigration status.

If the bill passes and is signed into law, people would no longer have to prove their citizenship or legal status.

The bill would restore state law to what it was prior to 2003, when former governor Tim Pawlenty signed legislation making it illegal for undocumented immigrants to obtain a license in Minnesota.

A coalition of lawmakers and community members have rallied around what they are calling the "Freedom to Drive" movement.

"Immigrants come here for the promise of freedom and opportunity, and they contribute to the culture, economy, and community of our state,"  House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said in a statement.

"They are bold, brave, and hard working; and they are exactly the Americans we need. All Minnesotans deserve to be able to work, live and take care of their families. Ensuring everyone has access to driver's licenses will improve public safety for everyone, grow the state economy, and treat our immigrant communities with dignity and respect."

Supporters of Driver's Licenses for All gathered in the state capitol rotunda on Friday with posters and signs.

There was also a press conference with those in favor of the legislation.

At the press conference, Terry Thao, community leader and program director at Nexus Community Partners, said, "Having driver's licenses restored to undocumented immigrants is a moral and economic imperative."

Jovita Morales, cofounder of Minnesota Immigrant Movement, said, "I've had to drive without a driver's license to take the kids to school, to work and to buy groceries."

But Republican Representative Steve Drazkowski said it will create a double standard.

"It gives special opportunity to people who are here illegally," he said. 

The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to oppose the bill.

House Democrats have also put the language into their big transportation bill to try to force Senate Republicans to discuss it during negotiations late in the session.

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Rebecca Omastiak and Brandi Powell

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