State education board votes to support undocumented immigrant driver licenses

    Sen. Stephanie Chang, Oct. 31, 2019 | C.J. Moore

    The Michigan Board of Education voted 6-1 Tuesday on a resolution favoring a four-bill package that would allow undocumented immigrants clearer access to driver licenses. 

    The bills — packaged together under the name “Drive SAFE” — would allow undocumented immigrants, workers and seniors to obtain Michigan state IDs or driver licenses for work and school-related purposes. Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom and the Economy) would also allow identification to be issued to foreign adoptees, individuals born abroad to American families and seniors whose birth records have been lost, as the Advance previously reported. 

    Before 2008, Michigan had no law that an applicant needed to indicate their citizenship status to obtain state-issued identification. However, an opinion handed down in late 2007 from then-Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, said “an unauthorized immigrant cannot be considered a Michigan resident and, in fact, only a Lawful Permanent Resident, sometimes known as a ‘green card’ holder, could be considered a Michigan resident under the law.”

    The state implemented the AG’s opinion in 2008. In the years since, activist groups and politicians in Michigan have sought to re-establish legislation that wouldn’t require undocumented immigrants to indicate their citizenship status.

    Bills allow undocumented immigrants to have state IDs, driver licenses

    The state board’s resolution goes to the Legislature, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Drive Forward Michigan, an immigrant-ally coalition that supports the bills, said it was pleased with the board’s actions.

    “It is one more step in this series of steps that are taking us slowly but surely to a more welcoming and just Michigan,” said Oscar Castaneda, a member of Drive Forward.

    Two bills in the package — Senate Bill 0631 and House Bill 5192 — require the secretary of state to work with immigrants’ rights groups and law enforcement to issue licenses to applicants who satisfy all requirements, per the legislators’ descriptions. Two additional bills — SB 0632 and HB 5193 — would do the same for issuing state ID cards.

    State Sens. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and state Reps. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) and Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) are sponsors of the legislation. The bills were introduced into their subsequent chambers in November 2019.

    C.J. Moore
    C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.