Editorial Roundup: Licenses for All a relief for state’s immigrants

Published 8:49 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

Life got a little easier this month for some immigrants and refugees living in Minnesota. A policy that took effect Oct. 1 removed the requirement that applicants show proof of legal residence in the U.S. to obtain a driver’s license.

This change will allow for more normalcy in the lives of more than 80,000 undocumented immigrants in Minnesota who, while previously not able to obtain licenses, still need to get to work, school and appointments like everybody else. Linda, an undocumented mom who moved to Minnesota 16 years ago from Guatemala, said the primary emotion she felt after passing her driver’s test was relief.

“Not having a driver’s license has been a challenge,” Linda, who did not want her last name used because of concerns about her legal status, told an editorial writer. Even an act as routine as taking her kids to school was scary, she said — and she wasn’t alone in that feeling.

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“So many people have been so scared every morning waking up and thinking, ‘Am I going to get pulled over on my way to work? On my way to the doctor’s office? On the way to my kids’ school conference?’” Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, told an editorial writer. “That sense of overwhelming relief, knowing that they’ll be able to go about their lives a little bit more routinely like everyone else, is just huge.”

In addition to easing some immigrants’ daily troubles, this change will also have positive public safety impacts by ensuring that more Minnesotans undergo driving instruction and that fewer drivers on the road are uninsured. Similar policies in Connecticut and California led to 9% and 7% to 10% decreases in hit-and-run crashes, respectively. These positive impacts on safety are why the Driver’s Licenses for All movement had the support of some Minnesota law enforcement organizations, Iyer said, including the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

This change will also have positive economic impact. Greater Minnesota’s agriculture largely depends on immigrant workers, who need a safe and legal way to get to work on rural roads with little to no public transit. And the Minnesota Budget Project estimates that earnings of undocumented immigrants could increase by $1,500 to $4,400 per year once they obtain licenses — a bump that could lead to more spending, which boosts the economy for all Minnesotans.

Another advantage of this policy is the impact it will have on children, Ryan Pérez, a community organizer with COPAL MN, an advocacy group that works to advance the rights of Latin American families in Minnesota, told an editorial writer.

“What gets overlooked at times is the critical developmental experiences, the social experiences that kids are going to be able to enjoy,” Pérez said. “The fact that a mom can now drive her kid to the soccer game that otherwise he had to choose to stay home (from).”

Disclosing immigration status hasn’t always been a requirement for getting a Minnesota license. The Oct. 1 change reverses former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2003 decision prohibiting undocumented immigrants from obtaining licenses or state IDs — a policy brought about by fear following the Sept. 11 attacks.

But state leaders have since recognized the error of such a requirement, which wasn’t shown to do much — if anything — to improve public safety. At the signing ceremony in March, Gov. Tim Walz said the bill “erase(d) 20 years of a bad policy.”

While opponents of Driver’s Licenses for All have claimed the change opens the doors to voter fraud, the policy change has no impact on requirements to vote in Minnesota. Among other requirements, you must be a U.S. citizen to vote.

For immigrants in Minnesota who are newly considering applying for a driver’s license, Iyer said the advice she’d give to them is similar to the advice she plans to give her daughters once they turn 16: Study! The Minnesota Driver’s Manual is available online, and contains everything new drivers need to know about operating a motor vehicle in Minnesota. Translations of the manual are available in Spanish, Somali and Hmong, and the written driver’s test is available in those languages as well as Vietnamese and Russian.

Linda echoed the importance of studying beforehand. In anticipation of the change, she made sure to study and prepare before taking her written test, which she passed just a day after the new law took effect.

“I feel so much relief knowing that, for sure, I’m going to be able to show the police if they pull me over that I have everything,” she said.

— Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 16

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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