Drivers Licenses For All Bill Advances in MN Legislature

View of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on August 15, 2018 by Ken Lund obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Olivia Allery, news editor 

On Jan. 10, many immigrant families spoke up at the Minnesota legislature, pressuring lawmakers to pass the Driver’s Licenses For All bill, also known as House File 4. This bill would allow undocumented immigrants to legally obtain driver’s licenses in the state of Minnesota. Representatives on the Minnesota Committee of Transportation held a three hour long hearing at St. Paul’s capitol building on Jan. 10, hearing from businesses, law enforcement and immigrant families in expressing both support and concern for the bill’s passing.

Among those who spoke was the bill’s author, Rep. Aisha Gomez of Minneapolis, who stressed that possessing a driver’s license is a basic necessity for all Minnesota drivers. “This bill is really about the tens of thousands of individuals and families who lack access to this basic need—a driver’s license— so that they can safely and lawfully get to work, to medical appointments, they can transport their kids to school and activities.” 

Many immigrants expressed their fear of getting pulled over and deported as a result of not having a license. They were afraid of ripping their families apart for something as simple as going to work, school or even just to run errands. One of these testimonies was from Alejandra Chavez Rivas, a single mother who lost her driver’s license status in 2003 while she was attending college. “I was a student, I was a single mother driving my daughter from Monticello to St. Paul, also driving myself to school every single day and it paralyzed me,” Chavez said, as reported by the Sahan Journal. “I was in fear of getting deported. I was in fear of graduating. I didn’t know what the future held for me.”

Up until 2003, Minnesotans were able to get drivers licenses regardless of their immigration status as long as they had sufficient road tests and insurance. However, then-governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawnley, took it away after the 9/11 attacks hoping it would reduce the state’s security concerns. Now almost 20 years later, it seems the bill has the support to be reinstated into Minnesota law. 

Quite a few businesses, law enforcement and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce expressed their support of the bill as well. Minnesota pork and milk producers acknowledged that immigrants having access to driver’s licenses would ensure the safety for many of their workers, who are integral to Minnesota’s economy. The Chamber of Commerce also thinks the bill will help relieve some of the employment shortages the state has been experiencing. Law enforcement believes this will make Minnesota roads safer as well, because immigrants would be able to take driving and road safety tests and have access to car insurance. 

Many Republicans on the committee panel were opposed to the bill, concerned that this bill would discourage immigrants from going through the citizenship process and allow for illegal voting. 

The bill has now passed in the Transportation Committee and will now move onto the House Judiciary Committee to be reviewed. According to CBS News, Gov. Tim Walz has also publicly promised to sign the Driver’s Licenses For All Bill into law as soon as it is approved.