Others’ opinion: License immigrants before they get behind the wheel

Published 5:46 am Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Minnesota law was once on the right side of immigrants’ access to legal driver’s licenses. Now in the interest of public safety, it’s time to bring back those practical rules.

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The Legislature should approve a proposal to make those living here illegally eligible to drive legally. Under the measure, undocumented immigrants could get a “noncompliant” license — one that requires verification of identity and a Minnesota residence. The applicant would also have to pass a driver’s license test and purchase vehicle insurance.

Authored and introduced recently by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, HF 1500, would wisely repeal rules put into place during former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration as part of an anti-terrorism measure. Before 2003, the state allowed residents without papers to drive legally.

Now an estimated 95,000 immigrants live in Minnesota without documentation. Thousands already are driving to work or transporting family members. Changing the law would translate into more drivers who have learned the basic rules of the road and obtained insurance, both of which would help create safer roads.

Along with safety advantages, there are economic benefits. Immigrants need to get to work, and they can add to the economy by buying license fees and insurance.

Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson, who made the issue part of his 2018 campaign, said undocumented drivers would be “less likely to flee the scene if they get in an accident because of their status … I hope it will also make people more comfortable coming to the police for any issues.” The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce also supports the change, based on road safety and economic impact.

Opponents argue that illegal immigrants have broken the law and should be treated as criminals — not given driving privileges. Yet that view doesn’t acknowledge that most adult undocumented immigrants come here to work, and that many need to drive to get and keep their jobs. They also pay taxes.

U.S. businesses, especially those in agribusiness, rely on immigrant workers, which is in part why the Editorial Board has long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform. Until that happens, Minnesota should recognize the realities of undocumented residents and establish driver’s license laws that enhance public safety. Tens of thousands of them are here participating in our economy, raising their families — and driving on our roads.

It’s better for all Minnesotans when all motorists are tested, licensed and insured before getting behind the wheel.