Unauthorized immigrants will head to Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) locations around Minnesota starting this week to take the written exams required to obtain a state driver's license.
More than 80,000 unauthorized immigrants became eligible to obtain a driver's license or state identification Sunday. The new law was the realization of two decades of campaigning from activists and some DFL politicians.
The legislation passed earlier this year eliminated the requirement to prove legal residence in the United States to obtain identification. Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law in March, giving unauthorized immigrants the ability to legally drive and access to better work or educational opportunities, he said.
Having more licensed drivers who have passed their drivers' exam will help improve road safety in Minnesota, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Bob Jacobson said at a news conference Thursday.
"We fully expect this to be an immensely popular program, and it should be," Jacobson said. "It is life-changing for many people."
Every testing slot on Monday was filled. But applicants are encouraged to check back frequently in the coming days in case of cancellations, DVS program manager Jacquelyn Eiffler said.
Linda, an unauthorized immigrant in Apple Valley who didn't want her last name used, said she was carefully studying her driver's manual to prep for her appointment Tuesday in Faribault. It was the closest site with an available slot for her to take the written exam.
"I can't wait. I'm excited for it, of course, trying to study to pass it," she said.
Ryan Perez, organizing director of COPAL, a grassroots organization advocating for Latinos in Minnesota, said immigration advocates believe the language of the law protects immigrants. Yet some community members have questioned whether participating will put them at risk of deportation.
COPAL is helping immigrants navigate the application process as one of DVS's community partners. Perez has heard some people ask in listening sessions, "Is this really safe? Is this really happening?" He said he thinks trust will increase over time as people see neighbors with licenses and realize nothing is happening to them.
On Friday night, hundreds of immigrants gathered in the Phillips Community Center to learn how to apply and to ask questions. What documents should they bring? What if they previously had driven under a fraudulent name? If they were deported before and came back, would applying for a license land them in trouble with immigration authorities?
Some had lived here for decades without a license. Among them was Maria, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 26 years and never driven. "I am so happy," she said.
Afterwards, Jovita Morales noted that some immigrants still are scared. She led the event as founder of the Minnesota Immigration Movement, another DVS partner in the rollout.
"They're concerned that they're going to be targeted by ICE or that the police are going to stop them all the time," Morales said. She added that her organization tells them the law says it will not share their information with immigration enforcement.
Ahead of testing, DVS officials and immigrant affairs leaders emphasized the importance of studying for the written test, making an appointment online and arriving with translated documents.
Here's what applicants need to know:
How can I make an appointment for a knowledge or skills test?
You can schedule an appointment online at drive.mn.gov under the "Appointments" section. Applicants are encouraged to check the site regularly for additional appointments and possible cancellations.
What documents will I need to provide?
Applicants must provide two documents with their full name and birthdate. Examples of approved documents include an unexpired passport, birth certificate or permanent resident card. For a full list of eligible documents go to https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/dvs/forms-documents/Documents/DL%20For%20All%20Primary%20Secondary%20Documents%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.
What languages will the written test be available in?
The tests are available in English, Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, Somali, American Sign Language, Russian and Karen.
What if my documents are in a language other than English?
You must provide a translation and translation attestation for any document in a language other than English.
What languages are study materials in?
Will law enforcement know my status when they see my ID?
No, according to state law. Standard licenses are the same for those with or without legal status. DVS will not share immigration or citizenship status with law enforcement unless court ordered, according to state law.
Will the driver's license allow me to vote?
No. Only U.S. citizens can vote. Licenses will be marked "not for federal identification."