Statement from the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC)
May 23, 2016
Minnesota’s legislative session skidded into a ditch at midnight Sunday, May 22, leaving the massive bonding and transportation bills as well as REAL ID drivers license implementation stillborn as time ran out.
The feds have threatened Minnesotans with not accepting MN drivers licenses as identification in airports if the legislature doesn’t make state licenses REAL ID-compliant soon. The main issue preventing legislative agreement on the REAL ID bill was the dogged insistence by House Republicans of inserting anti-immigrant language into the bill, and when that didn’t work, legal mechanisms intended to ensure the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from eligibility for driver’s licenses.
Minnesota already currently prohibits undocumented immigrants from getting a drivers license, and a REAL ID-compliant license would also by definition prohibit it. But many states that have implemented REAL ID such as California have also created a second-tier ‘non-compliant’ drivers license that is accessible to undocumented immigrants.
Immigrant rights activists including MIRAC and other organizations and community members have pushed for drivers license access in Minnesota for years. Anti-immigrant legislators have blocked the proposal every year, forcing 100,000 undocumented immigrants who live and work in the state to drive without a license to get to work and school due to inadequate public transit and harsh winters, risking arrest and deportation. This harms immigrant families and communities, and is irrational public safety policy.
Many members of our organization, the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC), an all-volunteer grassroots community organization, were at the capitol throughout this session and around the clock for the final days of the session to make sure the House Republicans didn’t sneak anti-immigrant provisions into the final REAL ID bill. House Republicans had earlier put a provision excluding immigrants in their version of the bill and tried to insert the same language in the joint House-Senate conference committee. Activists also wanted to make sure that Senate Democrats didn’t give in to the Republicans’ anti-immigrant language at the last minute in order to make a deal to get REAL ID implemented, given that pressure is strong to implement REAL ID before the federal deadline.
We are happy to report that the anti-immigrant agenda was blocked.
On May 21 Senate Democrats on the REAL ID conference committee, which was tasked with reconciling the versions of the REAL ID bill passed by the House and the Senate, presented a surprise proposal in an attempt to reach a compromise. Their proposal attempted to break the logjam with Republicans by removing the Republicans’ anti-immigrant language but requiring any subsequent Department of Public Safety (DPS) rule changes in REAL ID implementation to come back to the legislature for final approval. Senate Committee Members, led by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL), hoped this would assuage Republican fears that DPS could decide to make a second-tier license available to undocumented immigrants via a post-REAL ID rule change. While the Democrats’ proposal at least removed the Republicans’ anti-immigrant language, the effect of the compromise proposal would create more hurdles along the path of winning drivers license access for immigrants, with no ultimate guarantee.
MIRAC immediately responded by questioning the constitutionality of this proposal. A MIRAC statement released the same day explained that it could be interpreted as the legislature attempting to improperly usurp rulemaking power from the executive branch (Departments are part of the executive branch headed by the governor, and they have rulemaking authority). This could have ramifications affecting the balance of powers between the branches of government as outlined in the state constitution. MIRAC then circulated a legal brief to the legislators on the REAL ID conference committee and to the Department of Public Safety, raising the issue of the constitutionality of the proposal. After that, the conference committee stalled out, failing to propose a viable way to move forward without fully capitulating to the obstinate Republicans, who insisted all the way to the midnight deadline on keeping anti-immigrant language in the bill.
The unfortunate result of the legislative impasse is that REAL ID implementation failed, thereby risking massive inconvenience for the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans whose drivers licenses will cease to be valid identification at airports in 2018, unless and until a deal is reached.
With three major bills stalled as the clock ran out on the 2016 legislative session, talk immediately turns to a special session to finish the bonding, transportation and REAL ID bills. Both House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said they’re open to a special session, but only the governor can initiate one. On May 23 Governor Dayton said he would take some time to review the bills that were passed before deciding whether to call a special session to deal with the unfinished business. But given the magnitude and importance of the bills the legislature failed to pass, chances of a special session are high.
We’re honored to give our time and efforts in this struggle for justice. We know we are just one organization among several that played a role in preventing anti-immigrant laws from passing in our state. This struggle belongs to all the individuals and organizations that help and to the whole community affected by the lack of drivers license access.
MIRAC pledges to continue the struggle for drivers license access for all in Minnesota regardless of immigration status. We will work with others to continue this struggle whether it’s in a special session, the next legislative session, or any other venue.
The struggle continues!
Drivers license access for all!