The Minnesota Senate, shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday, voted 34-31 along party lines to pass the Driver’s Licenses for All bill that will allow immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, the ability to obtain a state driver’s license.
First term DFL Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, was the chief author of the bill in the Senate, which passed in the House last month. Gov. Walz has said he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.
With the governor’s signature expected, the new law will end a ban the state instituted 20 years ago that barred those without legal immigration status from obtaining a Minnesota driver’s license.
In 2003, Republican governor Tim Pawlenty changed the administrative rules and barred the state from issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who are undocumented and who have temporary status. Veena Iyer, the executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota hailed Senate passage of the bill as a “a major victory for all Minnesotans” calling Gov. Pawlenty’s actions in 2003 as “unilateral.”
Those backing the ability for the undocumented to get driver’s licenses included the business community and members of law enforcement, all of whom testified before the Senate in support of the bill.
Debate on the bill went on all night Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday as Republicans introduced a multitude of amendments to guard against what they called voter fraud. They for example wanted driver’s license issued to the undocumented to state they are not valid for voting. The Democrats blocked all such amendments.
“The biggest thing that I hear in my district is why are we giving a legal driver’s license that is the identical license that we as legal citizens have to people who are here illegally? There should be some differentiation between the two,” Republican Sen. John Jasinski asked on the Senate floor.
Senate President Bobby Joe Champion who co-authored the bill said he was excited to be a part of the solution to restore the freedoms of those denied the right to a driver’s license for two decades, adding “We realize that this is a public safety issue, and it’s going to make our streets safer. It will allow our fellow Minnesotans to get to work, take their kids to soccer, and do all the other things that Minnesotans do. So today I am excited to say that our undocumented friends and neighbors can come out of the shadows and have the freedom to drive.”
Passage of the bill is a signature win for the youngest woman ever elected to the state Senate, freshman Democratic Senator Zaynab Mohamed, who is just into her seventh full week having been sworn in on Jan. 4.
“This is a huge win for Minnesota’s immigrant movement,” said Senator Mohamed. “I am so proud to have co-led this effort to restore the freedom to drive alongside my friend and colleague, Senator Champion. This victory belongs to Minnesota’s immigrants and the dedicated advocates who have bravely fought for this legislation for over 20 years. Today we sent a message to Minnesota’s undocumented community: we hear you, we see you, and you are a part of our beloved community.”
Recommended reading: Hibah Ansari of Sahan Journal on “What if Drivers Licenses for All becomes law? Here’s how undocumented Minnesotans would obtain licenses.”