The Potluck

Undocumented Minnesotans regain right to obtain driver’s licenses

By: - March 7, 2023 1:06 pm

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

Over 80,000 undocumented Minnesotans will soon be able to get a driver’s license.

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday signed “Driver’s Licenses for All” legislation into law, undoing former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unilateral 2003 order requiring proof of legal residence to obtain a Minnesota driver’s license. 

At the signing, elected officials credited advocates and community members for keeping the “Driver’s Licenses for All” movement alive for two decades, which gained new life due to the DFL trifecta. Advocates said passage was a collective effort from immigrant communities.

Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, executive director of Unidos MN, said: “Is there anyone that still doubts the power of immigrants and our friends when we come together?”

Walz said banning driver’s licenses for undocumented residents did nothing to improve public safety, and that he welcomes immigrant communities to the state. 

“Hola,” Walz said as he entered the room at the bill signing, greeting the largely Latino audience. 

Although similar efforts have attracted bipartisan support in the past, Republicans said during legislative debates this year that they’re concerned undocumented residents could use driver’s licenses to vote. Walz called an undocumented person using a driver’s license to vote a “mythical scenario.”

Despite GOP opposition, the new law 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. 

“When communities live in fear, it makes all of us less safe,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.

The policy will go into effect in October 2023. 

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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.