Minn. will allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

An estimated 81,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks to the media Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in St. Paul, Minn. Minnesota Democrats completed a trifecta Wednesday by winning both houses of the legislature to take full control of state government for the first time in eight years. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) on Tuesday signed legislation that will give undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain a driver’s license, a law aimed at improving safety and insurance coverage for tens of thousands of drivers.

An estimated 81,000 undocumented immigrants live in Minnesota, Walz said. The new law deletes an old provision that required someone seeking a license to show proof of citizenship or lawful presence in the state.

“Ensuring drivers in our state are licensed and carry insurance makes the roads safer for all Minnesotans,” Walz said in a statement.

The bill passed the state House and Senate largely on party-line votes. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers after reclaiming control of the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections.

Giving undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses was once a controversial idea, even within the Democratic Party. In 2007 and 2008, Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sparred over whether to grant licenses to the undocumented — Clinton ended up opposing the idea, while Obama backed licenses.

Minnesota will become the 19th state to offer driving privileges to undocumented immigrants, following a path blazed mostly by Democratic states. Washington State became the first to authorize licenses for all back in 1993, followed by New Mexico in 2003 and Utah — the sole red state to grant licenses to the undocumented — in 2005.

Supporters of the measure say licenses help integrate undocumented migrants into a society, and help boost local economies. A 2016 study by the Minnesota Budget Project found access to car ownership was associated with higher employment rates and higher wages.