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Minnesota drivers license for immigrants passes first committee vote

Massive community outpouring fills hearing and packs two overflow rooms
By Brad Sigal |
March 1, 2019
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Victor Ramírez-Juárez of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC)
Victor Ramírez-Juárez of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC)

Saint Paul, MN - Hundreds of immigrants and supporters filled the Minnesota State Capitol on February 28 for the first committee hearing of House File 1500, the ‘drivers license for all’ bill. The hearing room quickly filled to capacity, as did two overflow rooms. After more than two hours of public testimony and debate, the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee voted to pass the bill and refer it to the House Ways and Means Committee for the next step in the process.

Today’s hearing and vote is the first of several steps for immigrants to win the right to a drivers license in Minnesota. HF1500 is the House bill to restore driver's licenses for all Minnesotans of age regardless of immigration status. There is not yet a Senate companion bill, but democrat Representative Ryan Winkler said in the hearing that they are working closely with senators to move the process forward in the Senate too.

HF1500 would allow Minnesota residents to apply for a drivers license regardless of their immigration status. This was allowed in Minnesota until 2003 when then-Governor Tim Pawlenty changed the rules. Currently, undocumented immigrants who live in the state can’t get a drivers license. This leads to many problems with the police and ICE such as fines, arrests and deportations while driving kids to school or medical appointments or going to work.

After over a decade of frustrated attempts to pass a drivers license bill in Minnesota, last November’s election results have brought a renewed push. The new democrat Governor Tim Walz has expressed support, as has the Democratic leadership in the Minnesota House. HF1500 is sponsored by House Majority Leader Winkler.

Many community organizations have joined together this year in the Freedom to Drive MN campaign to fight for the right to a drivers license. The large turnout at the hearing reflects a deeply felt need among immigrants and their families in Minnesota for the right to drive without fear of jail or deportation.

Several community members gave testimony to the committee about the profound need for a drivers license in immigrant communities, including Victor Ramírez-Juárez of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) and Maria Cisneros, who was one of the initiators of the drivers license movement in Minnesota more than a decade ago.

While the Democrats control the Minnesota House, Republicans still control the Senate. So immigrant rights movement leaders are prepared for a more difficult battle there, but confident that with mass mobilization victory is possible.

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