Bills allow undocumented immigrants to have state IDs, driver licenses

Susan J. Demas

At a Thursday press conference, state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) called it a “matter of human dignity” for those who can’t prove their lawful presence to be able to obtain state identification.

Sen. Stephanie Chang announced bills for undocumented immigrant driver licenses, Oct. 31, 2019 | Claire Moore

Chang and other Democratic legislators said they’re moving forward with plans to introduce a “Drive SAFE” package of bills that would allow undocumented immigrants, workers and seniors to obtain Michigan state IDs or driver licenses. Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom and the Economy) also would give identification to individuals born abroad to American families, foreign adoptees and seniors whose birth records might have been lost.

Per legislators’ descriptions, two bills in the package — Senate Bill 631 and House Bill 5192, which are not yet online — would require the secretary of state to work with immigrants’ rights groups and law enforcement to issue licenses to applicants who satisfy all requirements. In addition, two more bills — SB 632 and HB 5193 — would do the same for issuing state ID cards. 

Chang’s fellow state senator, Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), and state Reps. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) and Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) also backed the bills. Chang and Garza introduced the driver license bills, while Brinks and Hood introduced the state ID bills. 

Rep. Rachel Hood talked about bills for undocumented immigrant driver licenses, Oct. 31, 2019 | Claire Moore

Chang first talked about introducing a form of this legislation back in August. She presented the names of a bipartisan coalition formed in support of the new package — the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) of Michigan, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, Michigan League for Public Policy and the Michigan Farm Bureau, to name a few. 

At the press conference, Chang also noted that getting the bills through the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature could be difficult. The Legislature decided in 2008 to bar Michigan from issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants. 

“As many of you know, in the previous two terms that we’ve introduced this legislation, we had bipartisanship and co-sponsorship on these bills,” Chang said. 

When asked about encountering resistance, Chang said she and other Democratic lawmakers have already “had conversations with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle” in regard to the bills. 

Chang plans bill granting driver licenses for immigrants

Gabriela Santiago-Romero, a coalition member who attended the press conference, said she expects pushback on the bills.

“There will be pushback, and for us, it’s, ‘Well, there is an economic gain,’” said Santiago-Romero, an organizer for We the People – Michigan. “We do have an investment in this state, we do have our say. … We understand there will be pushback, but this benefits Republicans and their friends who own farms and businesses and want to have good workers who are safe when they’re driving there and back.”

Rep. Alex Garza talked about bills for undocumented immigrant driver licenses, Oct. 31, 2019 | Claire Moore

Michigan labor unions — the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, Michigan Education Association, Michigan Nurses Association and others — support the package.

“[These bills] will allow people – regardless of their immigration status – to take their kids to school, loved ones to get health care and shop at local businesses without fear of a minor traffic incident leading to family separation and deportation,” they said in a statement. “Up until 2008, Michigan had this policy on the books. We believe our state should adopt it once again to help everyone feel safe and ensure our communities are not places where people are forced to live in the shadows.” 

And Gilda Jacobs, president of the nonprofit policy institute the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), released a statement in which she called the matter a “family and community issue” that would be improved by passing the bills.

Sen. Winnie Brinks talked about bills for undocumented immigrant driver licenses, Oct. 31, 2019 | Claire Moore

“Michigan is a state where driving and proving your identity are essential parts of life,” Jacobs said in the statement. “All people, regardless of citizenship, should be able to take driver’s courses, take tests, pay fees, have insurance and register their vehicles. It makes the roads safer, and more importantly, it tells immigrants they belong.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also has voiced her support for allowing undocumented immigrants and other individuals to obtain identification, as the Advance previously reported.

“We need to ensure that everyone’s got a path to getting a license so they’ve got identification,” Whitmer said in August. “That’s something that’s important to me, it’s important to our economy, it’s important to the people of Michigan.”

Whitmer appears to back undocumented immigrant driver licenses

In August, Whitmer also noted Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson support allowing undocumented immigrants to have licenses. 

Currently, 14 other states and the District of Columbia allow forms of driving without proof of immigration status.