Above Photo: Grassroots immigrant rights leaders and state legislators address the community meeting for drivers license for all. Fight Back! News / Brad Sigal.
Minneapolis, Minnesota – Over 100 immigrants and supporters gathered at the Waite House Community Center on Saturday, January 21 to hear from grassroots leaders in the struggle to win drivers license access for all, and from elected officials that are advancing the bill in the state legislature. The event was organized by the Minnesota Immigrant Movement (MIM), a grassroots organization that’s been fighting for drivers license equality in Minnesota for many years. The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) was also present and spoke at the event.
The event, which was conducted in Spanish, started with an explanation of how the state legislative process works. The drivers license bill needs to pass through several committees in both the state House and Senate, then to a vote of the full House and Senate. After reconciling any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, it goes to the governor to approve it or veto it.
The bill is moving very quickly through the legislative process. The legislative session only started three weeks ago, and the bill has already passed the House Transportation Committee and Judiciary Committee. It will be heard in the Ways and Means Committee this week, then could come to a vote in the full House soon after.
In the Senate, the bill passed the Transportation Committee, where bill supporters defeated a four-hour barrage of Republican attacks and amendments, finally passing the bill through the committee. The next stop in the Senate is the Judiciary Committee. Activists and community members have packed all the hearings so far, keeping the pressure on the elected officials to hold the line and keep the bill moving forward despite the increasingly shrill fear-mongering from Republicans as the bill advances.
After the legislative process was explained at the event, many of the elected officials leading the effort to pass the bill spoke. This included Representative Aisha Gomez, the chief author in the House, Senator Zaynab Mohamed, the chief author in the Senate, Senate President Bobby Jo Champion, and the chairs of the House and Senate Transportation Committees, Scott Dibble and Frank Hornstein. The presence of the key legislators in this process reflects the strength of the movement after years of organizing, continually bringing directly-affected people to the capitol to tell their stories to the politicians and demand action. The bill’s chief authors have long-standing links to the grassroots movements pushing for drivers license for all.
The next steps that were announced at the event are to mobilize for the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on January 23, then for the House floor vote when that is announced. The organizers and elected officials that spoke repeatedly emphasized the importance of people turning out to the capitol for every hearing so the elected officials feel the urgency and don’t waver from passing the bill. The Minnesota Immigrant Movement is planning the next mass community meeting for February 4.
The attempt to win drivers license access for immigrants in Minnesota began in 2003, when the last Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, implemented the requirement of a Social Security number to get a drivers license in the state, as well as other anti-immigrant measures. Since then, immigrant rights organizations have fought for 20 years to try to get Pawlenty’s anti-immigrant drivers license policy reversed. That work seems to be bearing fruit this year, as the drivers license bill is moving rapidly through the legislative process. Organizers are optimistic that, with supporters of the drivers license bill in key legislative positions and with the governor signaling his support, chances are strong that the bill will pass this year – as long as the community keeps the pressure on.