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Minnesota activists fend off anti-immigrant provisions in REAL ID drivers license bill

By staff |
May 20, 2016
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MIRAC members at the capitol fighting for drivers license for all
MIRAC members at the capitol fighting for drivers license for all (Fight Back! News/staff)

Saint Paul, MN - As the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives voted on a bill, May 17, to change Minnesota drivers license to comply with the federal government’s REAL ID security program, immigrant rights activists were there demanding that the politicians keep anti-immigrant politics out of the bill.

The protesters carried signs with messages such as “Access to drivers licenses is a human right!” “Representative Smith: Keep anti-immigrant politics out of SF 3589!” and “Dump the Trump-style agenda in REAL ID!”

Immigrant rights activists have fought for many years in Minnesota for immigrants to have the right to get a state drivers license. Current state law doesn’t allow it, so an estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants in the state must risk arrest and deportation for driving without a license in order to get to work or take children to school, due to the inadequacy of public transit.

The campaign for drivers license equality continues this year, but it is complicated by the federal Department of Homeland Security bullying the state into complying with REAL ID. A REAL ID-compliant license is not available to immigrants.

The federal government is threatening Minnesotans with serious repercussions, like not allowing Minnesota’s drivers license to be used as valid ID in airports or government buildings, if the state drivers license is not brought into compliance with the federal REAL ID guidelines. In a prior legislative session, the Minnesota legislature voted overwhelmingly in a bipartisan vote to refuse to comply with REAL ID because of privacy concerns around people’s private data being shared with the federal government through REAL ID. Under arm-twisting from the federal government, the Minnesota legislature repealed their anti-REAL ID bill earlier this year.

The struggle now is over how a REAL ID-compliant license will be implemented in Minnesota. The bill passed in the Democrat-controlled senate leaves open the possibility of Minnesota following California and a dozen other states to create a second, non-REAL ID compliant version of the state drivers license which would be available to immigrants living in the state that could only be used for driving, but not for federal identification for airports, government buildings, and the like.

On May 17, the House Republican majority passed their version of the bill, which contains language that explicitly prohibits undocumented immigrants from getting any Minnesota drivers license. The Senate bill does not exclude that possibility.

On May 19, a conference committee met to negotiate a compromise between the House and Senate bills. As of May 19 they reportedly have not decided about whether the anti-immigrant language will be included in the final bill that goes to the governor.

Members of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) were at the capitol on May 19 to express their opposition to the House version of the bill, which includes the anti-immigrant provisions.

According to MIRAC member Julio Martinez, “We call on the legislature to stop this Trump-style anti-immigrant agenda and instead to recognize the basic human rights of our community who work and live in Minnesota. We want drivers license access for all in Minnesota.”

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