Unauthorized immigrants would be able to obtain driver's licenses under legislation on its way to Gov. Tim Walz, a priority of Democrats at the State Capitol who say it will make Minnesota safer.
The legislation, known by its supporters as "Driver's Licenses for All," lets immigrants get the license without showing proof of citizenship or legal status. The state Senate passed the bill on a party-line vote of 34 to 31 early Wednesday morning, and Walz has vowed to sign it.
Eighteen other states and Washington, D.C., already allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain licenses. These licenses could be used for driving and identification purposes, but could not be used to vote or to obtain a Real ID.
Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill's sponsor, said allowing people to obtain licenses without full resident documentation will improve public safety by allowing those unauthorized Minnesotans to officially get a license and requiring them to pass the tests to get one.
"The right thing to do is keeping the people who are on our roads safe, and that's what Minnesotans are asking for," Mohamed said. "Everyone across the state wants ... people on our roads to have gotten the proper driver's education that they need to have a proof of license so we can all be safe and live our lives with dignity."
Senators spent over five hours debating amendments to the bill. All Republican senators voted against the bill, suggesting it could allow for voter fraud or to allow someone to fake documents to obtain a license and commit crimes if they board an airplane using the license.
Sen. Eric Lucero, R-St Michael, said he thinks people with ill intentions could exploit the bill to get a license and use it to commit a crime similar to the 9/11 attacks.
"The threats to Minnesota and our country are studying this legislation, and they are going to gravitate to Minnesota so they can exploit the vulnerability that this body seeks to enact into law," Lucero said. "The bill as written has a loophole large enough to fly another airplane through, and we do not want that."
Mohamed said having a license didn't stop Americans who do have documentation from committing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"January 6 happened — that was a terrorist attack, and there were a lot of U.S. citizens who I'm sure had a lot of classic driver's licenses, and I also condemn that," she said.
Democrats also rejected Republican amendments to put a designation on the license card to say it does not allow for awarding other government benefits, and more stringent checks on immigrants applying for the license.
More than 1,000 people packed the halls of the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon and stayed until early Wednesday to celebrate the bill passing, according to Ryan Pérez, organizing director for Communities Organizing Latinx Power and Action.
"For the folks to be in the space, during a major winter storm willing to stay for this issue for that window of time, staying until 3 in the morning to celebrate with the authors, is something with a lot of power," he said Wednesday.
Organizers met with senators and organized community events to build support for the bill. Pérez said it became clear that Republicans were not going to get on board, so the strategy shifted to making sure that Democrats were all behind the move.
"This was really a question of making sure that the DFL held true to a policy priority that has been stated as a platform, that is a priority of the governor, and for which the community has overwhelming support for," Pérez said.