Call Legislators Today; Move People Out of the Shadows

Woman covering face with hand

Lack of access to a driver’s license forces many to hide in the shadows and steeps their every day lives in fear.

We have an opportunity to make a change for the better, and the time to take action is NOW!

Lack of ability to apply for a driver’s license is one of the pressing issues identified in The Advocates for Human Rights’ new, groundbreaking report, Moving From Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today. Minnesota regulations require proof of lawful presence in the United States for all applicants for driver’s licenses and state identification cards, effectively barring undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses and making it difficult for many people who are lawfully present to obtain licenses.[1]

There are numerous reports of individuals being arrested and booked into local jails after minor traffic stops for failing to carry a driver’s license or proof of insurance. Once in jail, ICE officers zero in, interviewing the detained to try to get admissions of unlawful presence in the United States and then turning them over to federal authorities for deportation.

The driver’s license issue stokes fear. “We have big meetings and ask people what the biggest issue is – driver’s licenses,” one community member reports. “People are so afraid of being stopped, constantly thinking, ‘When was the last time I saw my kids; will I be deported?’”[2]

It is commonly believed that the ban on driver’s licenses is a way for police and other law enforcement agencies to target immigrants.[3] This fear is well founded. “A number of our leaders have been lost because they were driving to work, arrested for not having their address on their ID, and brought to the county jail where ICE comes,” a community organizer explained.[4]

One U.S. citizen, whose husband was deported following a traffic stop, told us that her husband knew he should not drive, but he needed to go to work. Arrested in May 2013 for driving without a license, her husband was detained in immigration custody until his deportation in November.[5]

In a similar incident, a public defender described the plight of a Latino man who, after parking his car, was walking toward a restaurant, when a patrol officer stopped him and asked for identification.[6] The officer made no allegations of any violation of motor vehicle operation or suspicion of any criminal activity.[7] When the individual failed to produce a valid Minnesota driver’s license, he was arrested, booked into county jail, and turned over to ICE for deportation.[8]

Consider the person who was simply helping out a friend. He had his car parked on the wrong side of the street in order to jump-start the friend’s car.[9] The police stopped, and asked him for identification. When he presented a Mexican matricula consular, they arrested him.[10] He was booked into jail, interviewed by ICE under the Criminal Alien Program, and placed in deportation proceedings.[11] The individual had no criminal history, and no criminal charges were brought against him.[12]

Living without a driver’s license weighs heavy on undocumented immigrants, their families, and their communities. And it has far-reaching, sometimes unanticipated, consequences. For example, undocumented immigrants are reluctant to turn to law enforcement for help when they are victims of crimes, and they are cut off from participation in schools, from the broad community, and from employment.

Minnesota can end this pervasive fear. The Minnesota House has the opportunity to pass a bill, H.F. 348, “Driver’s Licenses for All,” that would allow all residents of Minnesota to apply for driver’s licenses. The Minnesota Senate has already passed the bill, and Governor Dayton supports it. House Speaker Paul Thissen has stated that he will schedule a vote, if there is enough support for its passage.

Call today and help undocumented immigrants and their loved ones move out of the shadows.

To find information on contacting your Minnesota state representative, use the District Finder on the Minnesota Legislature’s webpage:

By: Madeline Lohman, a program associate in The Advocates for Human Rights’ Research, Education, and Advocacy Program.  Lohman received her Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School, with a focus on international human rights law and Latin America, and her B.A. in British history and literature from Harvard. Prior to joining The Advocates, she worked at a variety of nonprofits, including Freedom House in Washington D.C., International Relief Teams, Human Rights Education Associates, and PACT Bolivia.

[1] Minn. Rules 7410.0410 (2013) (as amended by 28 SR 314, Sept. 15, 2003). Even for some refugees and immigrants who are legally present in the United States, Minnesota’s restrictive driver’s license rules pose a problem. A public defender said “homeless refugees often have no documents. So, they end up getting arrested because they don’t have documents and can’t prove their identity.” Interview 124.

[2] Interview 128.

[3] Interview 139 (“people end up in contact with immigration because of driver’s license problems.”)

[4] Interview 107.

[5] Dianne Towalski, Couple’s plight spotlights need for immigration reform, The Catholic Spirit, Jan. 2, 2014, at 6.

[6] Interview 124.

[7] Interview 124.

[8] Interview 124.

[9] Interview 121.

[10] Interview 121.

[11] Interview 121.

[12] Interview 121.


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