Chang plans bill granting driver licenses for immigrants

    Rally for undocumented immigrants in Detroit | Ken Coleman

    A Democratic state lawmaker is taking action on issuing driver licenses to undocumented immigrants, just days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer indicated her support for the issue.

    Sen. Stephanie Chang speaks at the 31st Annual Crime Victims’ Vigil, April 17, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

    While Republicans who control Michigan’s Legislature and have poured cold water on the concept, state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) announced on Wednesday that she plans to introduce a bill to make the practice legal. 

    “Immigrants’ rights advocates, farmers, faith leaders, Governor Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and I agree — it’s time to make sure that Michiganders can get drivers’ licenses without having to prove legal presence,” Chang said in a statement, adding that she’s introduced similar bills in past legislative sessions. 

    “This is about our neighbors being able to get to work, school, church and the grocery store without having to be in fear,” Chang said. “This is about our agricultural economy. This is about safety on our roads. And it is about fairness for our residents.”

    The state Legislature outlawed giving licenses to undocumented immigrants in 2008, and Republicans have indicated they have no interest in revisiting the topic.

    State Rep. Jim Lower (R-Greenville), who’s running for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) in a crowded GOP congressional primary, has slammed the idea. 

    “Anyone who enters the country and continues to live here illegally is breaking the law, and they should not be rewarded for doing so,” Lower said in a statement earlier this week. “The governor’s proposal would send the wrong message to law-abiding citizens and individuals who choose to follow the legal path to citizenship.”

    Whitmer appears to back undocumented immigrant driver licenses

    Immigrant rights activists praised Chang’s plan to re-introduce her legislation.

    “We celebrate this announcement as a clear marker of the power of the immigrant community of Michigan and their allies,” the group Movimiento Cosecha Michigan said in a statement. “For over a year, we have been growing an unprecedented, state-wide, immigrant-led movement so that all people can have the right to drive without fear. From Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor to Detroit, we have mobilized the immigrant community to take the streets and raise our voices, demanding driver’s licenses for all.”

    Nick Manes
    Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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