A Drop of Ink: Licenses For Undocumented Have Many Benefits
By Reed Anfinson
For many, the initial reaction to undocumented immigrants being allowed a driver’s license is met with a resounding “absolutely not.” They are here illegally; why should they have any rights?
However, many know little about the reasons behind legislation granting undocumented immigrants the right to drive and its benefits. They also don’t know that Minnesota once allowed undocumented workers a driver’s license.
In 2003, two years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in the U.S., then Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty acted to prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license. Despite numerous efforts over the past 20 years to provide driver’s licenses for these state residents, the efforts have failed.
Now the “Driver’s Licenses for All” bill is moving through the Minnesota House and Senate, with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz saying he will sign it. With the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party controlling the House and Senate, the bill is likely to land on the governor’s desk before the session ends.
Don’t let the fact that the DFL supports the bill lead you to believe it doesn’t have broad bipartisan support, at least outside the Legislature.
While you would rightly expect organizations supporting immigrants in America to be behind the legislation, many other backers, including faith, labor, and agricultural groups, see its benefits. It also has law enforcement support.
“The reality is a majority of these parties are probably driving anyway for work purposes, and to have them properly licensed with proper training increases the safety for everyone involved,” Stearns County Sheriff Steve Soyka told a Minnesota House committee last month.
Even the conservative Minnesota Chamber of Commerce backs driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
“Minnesota employers rely on immigrant workers to serve their customers and produce the goods and services we use and enjoy,” Laura Bordelon, the Chamber’s senior vice president of advocacy, said. Many businesses are short workers, slowing their potential production and customer service.
“In many instances, the place of work may be some distance away from home. To get back and forth safely workers should complete driver’s training and licensing requirements including securing insurance. This not only benefits workers and their employers but other Minnesota drivers,” she said.
It is estimated that there are currently 90,000 undocumented immigrants in Minnesota alone and millions in the U.S.
“While those with undocumented legal status may fear getting caught driving without a valid license and the associated immigration enforcement implications, research shows it is only a minor deterrent,” Dr. Ryan Allen, an associate professor in the Urban and Regional Planning Area at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, writes.
A study he did found about two-thirds of undocumented Hispanic immigrants drove a car to work despite lacking a license.
How does passing the legislation giving undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses benefit all Minnesotans? Here are a few points to consider:
- Undocumented immigrants living in Minnesota would be required to pass written and driving tests to get a license, making our roads safer.
- For over a decade now, the Minnesota State Patrol has reported that drivers without a license are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal accident as licensed drivers.
- Hit-and-run accidents numbers would decline.
- There is a significant increase in undocumented immigrants buying car insurance.
- Undocumented workers will see increased employment, earning between $2,000 to $6,000 more, which will be spent in our local economies, according to the Minnesota Immigrant Law Center.
- Rural Minnesota is seeing a growing number of immigrants who are vital to our economy.
- In rural Minnesota, we lack public transit systems that can take workers to their jobs, shopping for food, medical appointments, or children to school.
- Whether legal or illegal, each of their children who attends one of our schools means $8,000 to $9,000 in additional state funding. Ten students can support an additional teacher whose talents benefit all students.
Among the concerns Republicans have expressed about the legislation is that a driver’s license could be used by undocumented workers to vote.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has testified that granting a driver’s license does not automatically make a person eligible to vote. Under current state voting laws, driver’s licenses do not provide evidence of citizenship, a requirement for voting.
Nor is it an automatic right to vote. Felons have driver’s licenses but are prevented from voting. Sixteen-year-olds with a license can’t vote. People with a green card that allows them to work and live in the U.S. permanently but are citizens of other countries can’t vote.
Having a driver’s license also doesn’t confer legitimacy to their undocumented status or push them ahead toward citizenship.
“Our employers need workers. We know that this community works,” Walz said. “Why would we make it more difficult for them to get there safely? Why would we hold back our economy?” He calls the current law “a cruel policy that (does) nothing good.”
Each day an undocumented worker leaves home to drive to work or take a child to school, he or she has made what can be a heart-wrenching decision. An accident, failing to signal a turn, or momentarily drifting across the white line on the side of the highway could lead to their deportation and separation from their family. Considering their contributions to our economy, schools, and communities, they shouldn’t be burdened with these fears while driving.
We urge Republican District 12 state Sen. Torrey Westrom and District 12A House Republican Rep. Paul Anderson to support this legislation to make our roads safer, help our rural businesses and agricultural community, support our schools, and support the families who one day hope to make this their home as news citizens of the United States.