‘Sí se pudo’: Walz signs immigrant driver’s license bill into law

Gov. Tim Walz, prepares to sign the bill
Gov. Tim Walz, prepares to sign the bill that allows people to get driver's licenses regardless of their immigration status on Tuesday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday signed a bill allowing people in the state to obtain a driver’s license or ID card regardless of their immigration status.

Those seeking a license would still have to complete the required knowledge and behind-the-wheel tests to be eligible. More than 80,000 people in the state without authorization could be affected by the change.

The move comes 20 years after the Pawlenty Administration stripped the option for people in the country without proper documentation to obtain licenses. After the Sept. 11 attacks, state leaders said that people could use the Minnesota identification or license documents to do harm.

In the two decades since, immigrants and advocates for the change have pressed lawmakers to change the law back. And they said the restriction has done more harm than good in keeping Minnesotans safe.

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“Minnesota has put in place a piece of legislation that came in the fallout of the September 11 attacks, a piece of legislation that did nothing to improve public safety, but caused great personal harm, great community harm, and great economic harm to our state,” Walz said. “We're going to erase 20 years of a bad policy and lift up the dignity of all Minnesota.”

A illustration of a drivers license
Versions of the “Driver’s Licenses For All” bill have floated through the Legislature for more than a decade.
Illustration by Aala Abdullahi | Sahan Journal

Dozens of immigrants and supporters of the policy change flanked the governor during a bill signing ceremony at the Minnesota National Guard Armory. Several teared up when Walz signed the measure into law and they chanted “Sí se pudo,” which means yes we could.

Jovita Morales, who founded the Minnesota Immigrant Movement, and led protests, rallies and hunger strikes on the issue since 2005, got misty-eyed as she realized that she’d be eligible for a license later this year.

“We can now breathe a little bit of relief from that trauma because our loss won real change for our community,” Morales said. “Finally I’m going to have my driver’s license.”

Groups like Morales’ returned to the Capitol year after year to urge a return to the pre-2003 policy. And along the way, they picked up support from agriculture, business, labor and public safety organizations.

A big red sign says drivers licenses for all
Supporters of allowing undocumented immigrants to receive drivers license rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Feb. 21.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Then earlier this year, both chambers of the Legislature approved the proposal.

“I want to recognize that this work wasn't done by one, but by many many people who put their heart and their mind into this movement,” COPAL Executive Director Francisco Segovia said. 

“Today, more than ever, this logo of one Minnesota is more tangible, for thousands of Latinos across Minnesota,” Segovia continued, “because restoring the access to a driver’s license is more than operating a vehicle, it is an action that restores our dignity as human beings.”

Newly eligible people will be able to apply for licenses beginning in August and could receive them starting in October.