Minnesota immigrants explain why they support driver's licenses for all

Crowd listens intently to immigration discussion at January 25 meeting at Waite House. (Photo courtesy of Rosa C.)

Latino community members want driver's licenses regardless of their immigration status. That was the message they gave city and state legislators on Friday night at Waite House, where more than 170 Latino immigrants gathered to voice support for legislation to make people eligible for Minnesota driver's licenses, without regard to immigration status.

The Latino community came out in large numbers to share their stories with Minneapolis City Council members Elizabeth Glidden and Robert Lilligren, and State Senator Scott Dibble and State Representative Karen Clark. The Minneapolis City Council Committee of the Whole endorsed the driver's license initiative and a proposal on in-state tuition, as well as federal immigration reform, on January 24. The recommendation will go forward to the February 8 council meeting. (See City Council Staff Report:  Immigration Reform State Agenda RCAImmigration Reform Higher Ed Policy Recommendations PowerPointImmigration Reform Latino Engagement Task Force Policy Recommendations.)

Many community members, a third of whom were from Mexico and the rest of whom were mainly from Ecuador and Central American countries, gave emotional testimonials outlining various reasons for being in the country and for wanting driver's licenses.

“I came here for a better life and I had to leave a lot of my family behind,” said Maria, a housecleaner, while fighting back tears. “But now I live and drive in fear. The other day I had to drive my daughter to the hospital because she was very sick with the flu, but I was driving in fear. I want to be able to drive my daughter without fear.”

Some stated that they took public transportation instead of driving but that this wasted time they could be spending time with their families, working or involved in the community. Others said they were concerned that taking public transportation sometimes threatens their own personal safety.

One man, Jose, said that he would drive to work but that the current law forces him to take public transportation late at night. He returned home from his job at 1 a.m. one night and was walking home from the bus stop when a gang attacked him and beat him up. “I’ve had serious consequences for my health because of this incident, “he said. “I would like to be able to go to work freely.”

Others said they drive without a driver’s license, but drive in fear of the consequences. But many said that the need to make a living and support their families makes driving worth the risk of getting caught.  “We need to take our children to school and to their activities!” one man shouted from the crowd.

In perhaps the most gripping example of the consequences of driving without a license, Rosi, 28, shared her experience of being stopped by the police on the way to the hospital when she was in labor. After much time had passed and she felt her contractions getting worse, she panicked and screamed in desperation, “If my baby dies, it will be your fault!” The police finally let her off without a penalty, but asked her and her husband to get out of the car and call someone for a ride. 

People voiced plenty of reasons for wanting driver's licenses—from wanting to purchase car insurance without fear, to wanting to contribute to the economy (“We have money and the economy is bad, so we can help,” said one man)—but the stories frequently focused on the psychological effect of driving without a license. It seems that many Latino immigrants are driving regardless of the current law, but feel, and are, criminalized for doing so. 

Mariano Espinosa, Access and Outreach Specialist for the city of Minneapolis and a facilitator at the event summarized the reasons for the legislators by saying, “Those are all good reasons for wanting a driver's license. But most importantly, we aren’t criminals, we are human beings." 

State Senator Dibble told the crowd that he is committed to passing the bill, and City Council member Elizabeth Glidden assured the group that she and Lilligren will fold the community’s demands for driver's licenses into the city’s legislative agenda when it comes time to lobby at the capitol.

 “I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came here tonight,” said Glidden. “But it is a privilege and inspiration to be in this room with so many people tonight who care about this issue.” 


Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.

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Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva

Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva (lisa [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is the project manager for the New Normal project at the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

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Driver's Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

I do not feel that passing new legislation for illegal immigrants to get their driver's license is a good idea. They are here illegal and driving is a priviledge that must be earned, not expected. Although I completely understand where these individuals are coming from, (driving kids to school, emergencies, and independence) this would not help in reducing the # of Latinos who cross the border illegally. From a law enforcement and criminal justice perspective, we can't have people running around with no identification and no documentation of their existence! I feel like if we pass this legislation there will be more issues than benefits, especially if one does not know English. I couldn't imagine myself driving in another country and not only driving without a license, but not being able to read road signs, understand symbols, or know what to do when/if you get pulled over. It's not only unsafe for the individual, but everyone on the road. Especially on Minnesota roads!

Drivers Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

I will echo the same point that has been made regarding this story. I do not agree at all with this type of legislation being passed. While a drivers license will not allow you to do everything as if you were a legal citizen, I believe this sends the wrong message about illegal immigration in our country and in Minnesota. It is important however to hear the concerns of the people within the community you serve “a major concern among racial and ethnic minority communities is that police departments do not care about them” (Walker, Spohn, Delone, 2012). With that said, giving illegal immigrants state issued driver’s license undermines the seriousness of illegal immigration in this country. Its true, these may be good people going through difficult times and that’s why its important to let them know we will hear them out. The bottom line is there is a process to becoming a citizen here in the United States, we need to focus on how to make the process more efficient not help people surpass the process by making it easier to live here illegally.

Delone, M., Spohn, C., Walker, S. (2012). The Color of Justice.

Driver's Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

In as much as there are laws in the United States that everybody should obey, we must not forget the central element of the cultural mythology of this nation, that is, this is a “nation of immigrants”. Police officers were trained to always safe people’s lives first in any emergency situation, but what happens when an illegal immigrant is taking a sick citizen to the hospital and they get pulled over? Should officers detain the illegal immigrant because he/she is Mexican and lacks legal residency before they hear them out? Or should officer’s use their discretion and let them go, well then, that will be considered infringing on the law of the land. We put our officer’s in a very difficult position where they are caught in the middle of enforcing the law and doing what really makes sense.

In my opinion, as public servants we should see beyond the color of people’s skin and treat every individual equally. I will appeal to our legislatures to take a close look at the issue of immigration and illegal immigrants and try to set a law in place that will nip the problem in the bud. This is a huge problem that needs resolution, and as a united nation we should put a program in place that will allow these people to start working on a path to citizenship, so they can obtain legal documentations and drive legally instead of letting them break laws and criminalizing them according to the current immigration trend. It will be almost impossible to deport 11million illegal immigrants, on the same token we need to step up our boarder security.