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Immigrant struggle for drivers licenses heats up in Minnesota

By Brad Sigal |
March 18, 2014
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Dreamers speak at the March 14 meeting for drivers licenses for all in Minnesota
Dreamers speak at the March 14 meeting for drivers licenses for all in Minnesota (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Minneapolis, MN - With the new legislative session underway, the drivers licenses for all campaign is kicking back into high gear in Minnesota. The immigrant rights movement is mobilizing to press the state legislature and Governor Dayton to pass a bill that would grant basic equality for immigrants.

Currently undocumented immigrants cannot get drivers licenses in Minnesota. Due to extreme weather and inadequate public transportation, the thousands of immigrants that live in Minnesota are forced to drive for everyday tasks, like getting to work and taking children to school. Many of the immigrants that are deported and separated from their families first get ensnared in the criminal justice system when they are stopped for driving without a license. Once in the criminal justice system, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intervenes and starts deportation proceedings against many people who have done nothing more than drive to work.

According to Eder Alarcon of the No More Deportations campaign, “I think that as members of the immigrant community we need to struggle for drivers licenses to have access to one of the most important and necessary means of transportation in our state. If Minnesota grants drivers licenses to immigrants it would reduce one of the main causes of immigrants being detained and deported. Drivers licenses are one of the main needs of immigrants to be able to get to jobs that there’s no other way to get to without driving.”

Several other states allow immigrants to get drivers licenses, and immigrants’ rights activists have won recent victories in places like Illinois and Washington D.C. which now allow immigrants to get drivers licenses.

Immigrant rights activists in Minnesota have mobilized for several years to try to get the state legislature and the governor to allow immigrants to get a Minnesota drivers licenses. When the Democrats won control of both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office in 2012, hopes were high that drivers’ licenses for all could finally be passed after several years without success due to Republican control of the Senate, and prior to 2010, a Republican governor. Yet even with Democratic control of both houses of the state legislature and with a Democratic governor, it has still been an uphill battle to get the drivers license bill passed.

Last year a vigorous campaign succeeded in getting the Minnesota Senate to pass the drivers licenses bill, SF271. Hundreds of Latino immigrants and progressive supporters packed one committee hearing after another until the bill passed the Senate. But as last year’s legislative session wound down, the House version of the bill, HF348, stalled and Governor Dayton signaled he was reluctant to support it. At the end of the session several people staged a hunger strike at the Capitol over the issue, but in the end the House and the governor wouldn’t budge, killing the bill for the year. Since it passed the Senate last session, this year the bill just needs to pass the House and be signed by Governor Dayton.

The driver’s license campaign in Minnesota is led by the community organization Mesa Latina, with support from the whole immigrant rights movement. On March 14, Mesa Latina led a meeting that rallied more than 200 people at the Waite House Community Center to kick off the campaign to win drivers licenses this year. At that meeting a march at the Capitol for drivers licenses for all was announced for Wednesday, March 26 at 3:00 p.m., with more mobilizations to come as the legislative session advances. Mesa Latina is also encouraging people to sign the online petition to support the Drivers License bill in the House, HF348.

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