The scene in the Minnesota Capitol was jubilant as Aztec dancers, a variety of passionate speakers from the states various ethnic communities and a raucous crowd celebrated the House passing the “Freedom to Drive" Bill. The bill would restore the right to a driver's license that was prohibited under the Pawlenty administration in 2003.
The campaign to restore the right to a drivers license for undocumented migrants began in February and is the culmination of a decade of organizing and building support.
The latest efforts are backed by a coalition of non-profit organizations, unions, immigrants’ rights advocates, community-based groups and collectives, faith-based organizations, workers’ rights advocates and businesses led by the Freedom to Drive coalition. The coalition has garnered bipartisan support and blessing of law enforcement officials across the state.
The Freedom to Drive coalition released the following statement:
"We are excited that the Minnesota House has heard the voices of Minnesota families. This unprecedented moment was only possible because of the thousands of Minnesotan families who have been fighting for over a decade to make this happen. We know that driver's licenses for all means safer families and more prosperous communities. Issuing licenses to undocumented immigrant families is a major step toward recognizing the full dignity of all Minnesotans. We appreciate the bold leadership of the House and the courage they displayed by leading with the people of Minnesota. We look forward to working with the Senate and Governor Tim Walz in getting this law passed this legislative session."
"To me, passing this bill would mean I would be able to wake up calm and at peace for my family, neighbors and the community in which we live. It would mean coming home and being able to kiss and hug our children, dads, uncles, brothers, sisters, wife, husband, and our grandparents," said Jovita Morales with the Minnesota Immigration Movement. "We know that in our society that the happiness and tranquility of our families is tied to being able to drive a car and go to work and take our children to the doctor, to school, to wash the laundry, all while having the security of returning home and embracing our families. I'm excited to be here today to make this a reality for families across Minnesota."
“Immigrants come here for the promise of freedom and opportunity, and they contribute to the culture, economy, and community of our state. They are bold, brave, and hard working; and they are exactly the Americans we need,” said Majority Leader Winkler. “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.”
An estimated 95,000 undocumented immigrants live in Minnesota with an estimated 82,000 eligible to apply for a license if the law passes. More than half of the 95,000 have lived in the United States for more than a decade. Some 10,000 have lived here for more than 20 years. Among adults, 72 percent are working, and 33 percent own their own homes. Many are essential workers in health care, agriculture, and other fields.
“This past winter, I saw some of my coworkers walking in the snow to the plant for work,” said Angeline Roberts, who works at JBS, a pork processing plant in Worthington. “We had minus 50 degree wind chills this winter plus record snowfall. Our plant is on the edge of town. No one should have to put their life at risk to brave the elements because of lack of access to a driver’s license. Just like I want to be safe while at work, I want to be safe going to work. And I want that for my coworkers and my community. Providing driver’s license access for all is the right choice for Minnesota.”
There are real tangible effects of having a driver’s license. The Minnesota Budget Project estimates that "wage gains as a result of car access could raise the annual income of a full-time worker by anywhere from $1,500 to $4,400.”
The lack of a driver’s license means that everyday tasks like giving a neighbor a ride to church or picking up children from after-school activities or driving to the doctor’s office can result in potentially life-altering consequences.
"Denying immigrants the right to a driver’s license means we’re denying people living in our communities access to jobs and opportunity, endangering public safety, and criminalizing families’ efforts to participate in civic life,” added state Representative Aisha Gomez (DFL - Minneapolis). “That’s destructive for families, for businesses, and for Minnesota. It’s time to make our roads safer, and to reject a politics that would divide people living side by side as neighbors."
"Asian Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing undocumented population in the US. Our community needs driver’s licenses to drive for leisure, to pick up kids from school, and to take our elders to doctor’s appointments,” added Terri Thao, community leader and Program Director at Nexus Community Partners. “When we buy cars and insurance, we contribute to the Minnesota economy. Having driver’s licenses restored to undocumented immigrants is a moral and economic imperative."
Opponents of the bill insist that the bill would incentivize "illegal immigration," voter fraud and reward people who violate the law.
Quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt stated that
"At the end of the day this bill is a choice. A choice to grant privileges to those who are choosing to break the laws of this country, and a choice to allow employers to look the other way on federal labor laws. It's against the law in this country to enter the country without authorization. It's against the law in this country to remain in this country if you don't have authorization.”
These sentiments echo President Trump's hostility to undocumented migrants. Yesterday at the California border with Mexico Trump stated that asylum-seeking migrants are scammers and further suggested that the United States is full.
"They're the ones who are causing fear for life. It's a scam, OK? It's a scam. It's a hoax. I know about hoaxes. I just went through a hoax," Trump said. "So our system is full. We're not taking them anymore."
The Freedom to Drive bill now advances to the Republican-controlled state Senate. If passed Minnesota would become the 13th state (12 states plus the District of Columbia) in the nation to provide drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.