Roads would be safer, workers could get to their jobs easier and fewer people would live in fear if Minnesota allowed immigrants living in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses, supporters of the change said Thursday as they called for broader license access.
An estimated 95,000 immigrants are living in Minnesota illegally, according to the Pew Research Center. Minnesota used to allow such residents to get driver’s licenses, but former Gov. Tim Pawlenty ended the practice in 2003 in an effort to prevent terrorism.
There have been failed attempts in past to undo the restriction, but lawmakers and advocates who gathered at the State Capitol said this year it will get done.
Minneapolis and St. Paul police officers, religious leaders and business and labor representatives banded together to call for Minnesota to join at least a dozen other states that allow people who are not legal residents to get licenses. A large group of supporters, which included House members from both political parties, packed a stairwell at the Capitol and made the case from a range of perspectives.
Hospitality Minnesota President Liz Rammer noted the state’s workforce shortage and said allowing people to have licenses, regardless of their immigration status, is a “practical solution” to help fill jobs.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, called the proposal an “important human rights test” in the face of federal inaction on immigration policy. He said the fear of driving without a license is a terrible thing to impose on families.
Some Republicans have opposed the idea, saying it rewards immigrants who don’t follow the law.
In 2017, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, successfully led opposition to a move by Democrats to tie immigrant driver’s licenses to a measure to bring Minnesota into compliance with federal Real ID requirements.
Veronica Orellana, a student in Worthington, Minn., who came to the U.S. illegally as a child, knows the fear immigrants face firsthand. She would like to participate in extracurricular activities, she said, but her mother is not able to get her driver’s license to pick her up.
“I want to live a normal life too,” Orellana said. “This bill will help support many kids in my situation.”