The Potluck

Minnesota Senate passes bill giving undocumented residents a chance at a driver’s license

By: - February 21, 2023 8:00 pm

Sen. Zaynab Mohamed at a “Driver’s Licenses for All” press conference in January 2023. Photo by Grace Deng/Minnesota Reformer

Minnesota state senators passed a bill early Wednesday to give driver’s licenses to qualified undocumented residents after a decade of advocacy from immigrant rights groups. The bill will go back to the House — where passage is expected — and then heads to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk, where he is expected to sign it. 

“It’s time we stop playing politics with people’s lives,” said chief author of the bill Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis, on the Senate floor. “It’s bipartisan across the state of Minnesota except here.”

Bills to give driver’s licenses to undocumented residents have floated around the Legislature for years, but the new DFL trifecta has brought life to the movement again — despite the bill stalling the last time DFL lawmakers were in control a decade ago. Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty unilaterally required proof of legal residency in the United States to obtain a driver’s license in 2003. 

The bill (HF4) would impact the estimated 81,000 undocumented immigrants who live in Minnesota — as well as their families, particularly children who rely on their parents to get around.

Although similar bills in the past have attracted bipartisan support, Republicans say they’re concerned undocumented residents could use driver’s licenses to vote. Sen. John Jasinski, R-Fairbault, called for compromise and said the Republicans planned to introduce several amendments. 

DFL legislators say there are safeguards in place to prevent non-citizens from registering to vote. They also point out that many residents with legal immigration statuses already have driver’s licenses. 

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a letter to the Minnesota Senate that the proposal would not impact voting or voter registration systems. 

The bill is supported by a broad coalition of interest groups, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and law enforcement officials, who said giving driver’s licenses to undocumented residents would make their jobs easier and keep uninsured drivers off the road. 

Advocates say issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants makes roads safer: Studies show hit-and-runs and uninsured drivers decreased in states that allow undocumented people to obtain driver’s licenses. Eighteen states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico issue driver’s licenses or similar documents that offer driving privileges to undocumented people. 

The bill establishes an implementation date of October 2023 and allocates $1.45 million to Driver and Vehicle Services for the next two years.

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng was a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They studied legal studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.