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Lawmakers say undocumented immigrants should have access to driver's licenses

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 Updated: 6:25 p.m. | Posted: 4:44 p.m.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, introduced a bill Thursday that would give undocumented immigrants access to Minnesota driver's licenses.

More than 100 community members from various advocacy organizations filled the steps of the state Capitol to join Winkler and other lawmakers to show support for the bill.

Alfreda Daniels is an organizer with the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation and co-founder of the Black Immigrant Collective. She said many members of the black immigrant community don't have driver's licenses.

"One of these is Alberto, a young undocumented Cameroonian man, who cannot do something as simple as join a gym," she said. "Another is a Sudanese mother who has a child with a disability and cannot drive her daughter to playdates or doctor's appointments."

Some Liberians in Minnesota will likely lose legal status by March 31, which means they'll lose access to driver's licenses as well.

President Trump decided not to renew the Deferred Enforced Departure policy, which has given Liberian immigrants protection since 2007.

Past efforts to grant all Minnesotans access to driver's licenses have failed as Republicans and Democrats couldn't reach an agreement.

But Winkler says the bill has potential to move forward in the Republican-controlled Senate. The bill has a Republican sponsor, Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, who attended the press conference.

"We are very actively working with Senate Republicans to build support and to make this issue something that is about law enforcement, public safety and business, not necessarily only about the human rights issue," he said. "And we think that that broader outreach effort will pay off and we have very high hopes that this will succeed."

However, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, said it's important to focus on the Real ID backlogs before introducing new policies. Gazelka told reporters that Republicans would be slow to warm up to a driver's license for all bill.

"My concern would be, another issue rewarding people that are here illegally. Let's focus on the problems that we have first related to the people that are here legally," he said. "And then we'll take a look at some of those other issues. And some of those have to be solved federally and then we can work on some of the things that are problems state by state."

All Minnesotans used to have access to driver's licenses regardless of immigration status until the rule changed in 2003.

The proposed bill would bring that practice back. Lawmakers say the licenses would not confer the right to vote to undocumented immigrants. In response to a question about whether the state DVS would alert federal authorities, Winkler said immigrants' data would be protected.