Above Photo: Protest in Minnesota Capitol demand drivers licenses for all. Fight Back! News/Brad Sigal.
Win is the result of 20 years of struggle.
Saint Paul, Minnesota – Despite a snowstorm of historic proportions, hundreds of immigrants and supporters packed the State Capitol February 21 as the Senate debated Senate File 27, the Drivers Licenses for All bill which would allow Minnesotans to get a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. After more than six hours of debating hostile Republican amendments, the Senate voted to pass the bill around 2:00 a.m. on a party-line vote, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against.
The bill previously passed the House, and Governor Tim Walz already indicated he will sign it, so the Senate vote seals the victory for this major priority for immigrant communities and the immigrant rights movement.
With Minnesota’s extreme weather and inadequate public transportation, undocumented immigrants are often forced to drive to get to work or take kids to school or doctor’s appointments, risking being stopped by the police and then put at risk for deportation. Now, that common path to deportation will be dramatically reduced.
The struggle for drivers license equality in Minnesota began after the last Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, took away the right for immigrants to get a drivers license 20 years ago, in 2003. Bills for drivers license equality have been introduced in the state legislature regularly since 2008, but have always fallen short of passage, even during the previous Democratic Party trifecta of control over state government a decade ago. But this year the 20 years of organizing bore fruit as a legislative majority finally was willing to prioritize the issue and pass it in the face of shrill Republican fear mongering.
Community members rallied in the capitol for the entire time of the Senate debate, with young people taking the lead to keep up the energy. For six hours the Capitol rotunda was converted into a determined yet joyful Spanish-language community outpouring and celebration. There was chanting, speeches, testimonials from community members, singing, a live band and dancing, break dancers, and more. Then when the final vote happened, the capitol erupted in cheers of joy and tears after so many years of struggle.
Diana Hernández of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC), who was one of the MCs during the rally at the Capitol, said, “It was awe-inspiring to witness our people rally and get one step closer to the finish line of a twenty-years-long battle that has caused trauma, separated families, and endangered the lives of our community. We transformed the Capitol into a space of joy, community, and celebration in the face of hateful rhetoric against our community. This is not just about licenses to drive—it is a stance for our humanity and existence in a land we call home.”
Many organizations mobilized to the Capitol repeatedly this year for committee hearings and votes including the Minnesota Immigrant Movement, Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, COPAL, Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, Unidos MN, SEIU, Movimiento Obrero Latino, among others.
With the passage of the bill, undocumented Minnesotans will be able to apply for a driver’s license this October. Significantly, the Minnesota legislature passed an unmarked license, so immigrants will be able to get the same license as anyone else, ensuring they won’t be singled out as undocumented for having a differently-marked license.
With the passage of the drivers license for all bill, immigrant rights organizers will continue to push for the legislature to pass other bills that would also improve the lives of immigrants in Minnesota.