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Immigrants pack Minnesota capitol as drivers license bill passes first committee

By staff

Saint Paul, MN – Around 500 people, mostly Latino immigrants, along with many supporters, filled the Minnesota State Capitol on March 19 for the first committee hearing of the drivers license bill, SF224/HF97. The hearing room quickly filled to capacity, with a large crowd of people still outside of the room while the Senate Transportation Committee voted to approve the bill. This committee vote is just the first of several steps for immigrants to win the right to a drivers license in Minnesota.

SF224/HF97 would allow anyone who lives in Minnesota to apply for a drivers license regardless of their immigration status. Currently undocumented immigrants who live in the state can’t get a drivers license. This leads to many problems with the police and ICE such as fines, arrests and deportations.

During the hearing, the Senate author of the bill, Bobby Jo Champion, proposed an amendment to his bill to add a marking on the back of the license to say “for driving only” so that people can’t use the license for anything else. The committee approved that amendment. A Republican on the committee, Eric Pratt, proposed another amendment to move that marking to the front of the license. But the committee voted against that amendment, so the bill stays for now with the marking on the back.

Many organizations in Minnesota are fighting for the right to a drivers license and mobilized to pack the hearing. Two of the main groupings are the One State One License Coalition, which is fighting for an unmarked drivers license, and the Safe Roads Coalition. The large turnout at the hearing reflects a deeply felt need among immigrants in Minnesota for the right to drive without fear of jail or deportation.

Activists had to push the politicians to even get a hearing scheduled for the drivers license bill this year. The politicians finally agreed just under the wire, with the first hearing held just one day before the March 20 hearing deadline.

The bill’s next hearing is on March 25 at 12:15 pm in the State Office Building. The One State One License Coalition, the Safe Roads Coalition and other organizations are all mobilizing for a large turnout to this key hearing in the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. This is the first hearing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, so immigrant rights movement leaders are prepared for a more difficult battle there, but confident that with mass mobilization victory is possible. If the bill passes the House and Senate transportation committees, there would be at least one more committee hearing before the bill would reach the full House and Senate for a vote and then be sent to Governor Mark Dayton.

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