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“I Feel Very Happy”: Minnesota Law Opening Driver’s Licenses To Undocumented Residents Goes Into Effect

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Tens of thousands of undocumented Minnesotans are now eligible to apply for a driver’s license, thanks to a new law signed into place by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in March. The bill’s prospects for passage were greatly enhanced when Democrats took control of the State Senate last November, ensuring a Democratic Trifecta. “Driver’s Licenses for All” went into effect on October 1st and reverses a 20-year old provision that barred undocumented immigrants from applying, even if they called the state their home. 

While motor vehicle offices in Minnesota are usually closed on Sundays, special hours were offered for applicants to complete their written knowledge tests on the first day of applications. Keren Muñoz was among residents who lined up to take their test, the Sahan Journal reported. She passed. “I feel very happy,” Muñoz told the newspaper . “I am excited to know the magnitude of this; we did it the first day the law was approved.”

Mercedes, an undocumented resident who asked that only her first name be used, didn’t have an appointment but waited for hours in case a slot opened up, Minnesota Reformer reported.  “If not today, maybe another day,” she told the outlet.  

More than 80,000 undocumented residents are eligible to apply for licenses under Driver’s Licenses for All, which saw the support of legislators, community, faith, labor, law enforcement, and immigrant advocates due to its wide-reaching benefits. The law will help keep families together (unlicensed immigrants have been turned over to federal officials and deported after being pulled over for something as minor as a broken taillight), boost the state’s economy through license fees and greater accessibility to workplaces, and make roads safer for all.

The law will also importantly benefit the youngest Minnesotans. Nearly 31,000 children in the state have at least one parent who lacks legal immigration status. “For these mixed-status families, issuing licenses to parents means giving U.S. citizen children safer access to essential services like education and healthcare,” the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota said.

CBS News Minnesota reported that local organizations like Immigration Law Center for Minnesota, COPAL, Minnesota Immigration Movement, and UnidosMN were working to assist community members with the application process, including through informational workshops. UnidosMN Hennepin County organizer Regina Olono spoke with America’s Voice Campaigns Director Mario Carrillo this past summer as part of the Voices from the Frontlines campaign, where she issued an important reminder that when communities organize, they can win.

Immigrant communities in a number of states have seen similar wins this year. In Rhode Island, 30,000 undocumented residents are expected to benefit from driver’s license laws that went into effect this past summer. 

“It’s going to allow (noncitizens) to have a form of ID with them, so they don’t have to be scared of driving, being stopped by the police and reported to ICE,”  Karen Alzate, a Democratic member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, told Providence Business News. “Also, if they get into an accident they’ll be insured, and they’re driving already and can’t get insurance, so it’s really safe, and it’s going to have a positive impact on all Rhode Islanders.” In Massachusetts, 280,000 undocumented residents may be eligible to apply under its recently enacted law. Welcoming committees across a number of cities helped potential applicants with questions and appointments on the first day of implementation.

Among immigrants eager to apply for a driver’s license was 74-year-old Raul Averdano, “a helper getting people to the market and food pantry, and doing so, he admits, without a legal driver’s license,” CBS News Boston reported. Finally being able to do his job legally will be “a relief,” he told the outlet.

Advocates outside Minnesota applauded the implementation of the new law and said they hoped their communities will see similar relief. The new law means “a mom can take her kids for a drive to see the fall colors change w/out looking in the rear view mirror worried about her family being torn apart,” We the People Michigan Action Fund Founding Executive Director Art Reyes III tweeted, urging support for the state’s DRIVE Safe proposal. “We all deserve that joy w/out fear.”

“Great news! Starting this week, all Minnesotans, regardless of legal status will be able to obtain a driver’s license,” tweeted Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. “This makes Minnesota roads safer, lets 81K immigrants fully participate in life, and shows that our state welcomes all residents.” State Rep. Andy Smith, a backer of the Driver’s Licenses for All bill, noted the “amazing work” of organizations like UnidosMN and ISAIAH in helping push this proposal “across the finish line.”

“Whether we’ve called Minnesota home for days or decades, we all deserve to be able to move through our communities safely and with dignity,” ISAIAH tweeted. “Starting this month – and b/c years of organizing – undocumented Minnesotans can now apply for driver’s licenses again!” For more information on Driver’s Licenses for All, see this thread from UnidosMN – and congratulations to families and advocates in the state for this major victory.