BY WCCO STAFF, MARIELLE MOHS
Wednesday March 8, 2023
The Minnesota legislature met for the first day Tuesday. For Zaynab Mohamed, the day meant a little something more than the average swearing in ceremony. She was making history.Kerem Yücel | MPR News
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday signed a bill into law that will allow residents to get a driver's license no matter their immigration status. Last month, the DFL-controlled Minnesota Legislature passed the bill and sent it to Walz's desk.
Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan arrived at the St. Paul Armory to a round of applause from supporters of the bill.
The effort, dubbed "driver's licenses for all," is 20 years in the making for supporters of the policy, who say it will improve public safety and allow people without legal status to continue contributing to the state's economy.
Supporters of the driver's licenses measure include law enforcement officials, clergy members, business groups and immigrant rights groups who say it will boost public safety by keeping roads safe and help the state's economy by ensuring people can get to work.
Opponents have concerns about the action opening the lack of "safeguards" to protect people without legal status from voting and enrolling in state programs. They want the licenses for undocumented immigrants to be distinguishable from other driver's licenses.
Minnesota isn't the first to implement a law like this: 18 states and Washington, D.C. have authorized driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Democrats in charge of the Capitol have been passing legislation with much higher frequency at this point in session compared to recent years. This is only the second trifecta -- the DFL in control of the House, Senate and governor's office -- in more than 30 years.
This bill being signed into law was the main topic of discussion over the lunch hour at Plaza del Sol on Payne Avenue, which is a co-working space made up of Latin-Immigrant-owned businesses.
"It feels like a freedom," said Ciro Herrera, who enjoyed lunch at Plaza del Sol on Tuesday.
Herrera is a dual citizen of Mexico and America, and spent the last 20 years working to get this bill passed.
"I was pretty happy, and it was a closure to me to know that a lot of people can now have this document," said Herrera.
More than 80,000 immigrants who live in Minnesota can benefit from this law, which Herrera says will allow immigrant employees to get to work without risk of getting pulled over by law enforcement and never making it to work.
"They end up either going to jail, losing their car, paying heavy fines," said Herrera.
Jamin Benitez is the owner of one of the restaurants inside Plaza del Sol, called "Beniz Tamales" got his state ID 25 years ago when he moved to Minnesota from Mexico. Back then, this law was still in place. Benitez is happy that his loved ones can get one too now.
"I know so many people [without IDs]. I have friends, actually a family member, a brother, that didn't have the opportunity before to get a license. This is a huge win for our community," said Benitez.
Benitez hopes now fewer people will live in fear, and instead enjoy life's pleasures, like tamales for lunch.
"I think now people are going to feel free to go to this business or any other business," said Benitez.