My name is Danielle Robinson Briand. I am an immigration attorney at the Center for Immigrant Justice, a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee and Chair of the State and Local Committee of the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to testify.
As Chief Author of HF 3, Representative Smith has been unacceptably vague in committee meetings this year about why his version of the REAL ID bill specifically excludes undocumented immigrants from applying for a second-tier “noncompliant” driver’s license.
This is not our first go-around on REAL ID, which failed to pass last year literally in the 11th hour of the legislative session, owing to a collapse in Conference Committee negotiations on this very issue.
In a post-session review, the Pioneer Press highlighted the legislature’s failure to pass REAL ID, saying that an “issue tucked into the REAL ID debate proved its demise: the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. Many senators hope that the state moves in that direction; many House members do not.”
Representative Smith himself discussed the inability of the legislature to achieve REAL ID-compliance last year in a letter to his constituents, throwing blame on the Senate for “holding Minnesota’s driver’s licenses hostage because of controversial special interests” and “by pushing their fringe agenda.”
Sadly, Representative Smith’s words reveal a gross misapprehension of this issue and a complete disregard for the public policy considerations that have driven so many other states to pass REAL-ID legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to access a driving-only license. In fact, contrary to Representative Smith’s unfounded characterizations of a driving-only license as a “fringe issue,” there was bi-partisan support for this kind of license last year in the Senate and data shows there is a clear trend around the country toward including undocumented immigrants into state licensing systems. This includes legislation passed since 2013 in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Puerto Rico, Utah, and Vermont.
Let us move beyond the false debate that has been presented to us thus far on this issue – that including an immigrant exclusion into statute does nothing to change our law. The reality is that it is a significant deviation from the custom in Minnesota to delegate decisions about licensing requirements to the Department of Public Safety through the process of rulemaking. We must ask ourselves instead about why the trend is swinging in the direction of licensing more drivers. That is because legislators in other states have left the immigration politics aside and attuned themselves to the critical public policy issues at stake in creating a license for the undocumented drivers in their state.
Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut had this to say about a REAL-ID compliant bill passed in his state’s legislature in 2013 that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, register their vehicles and get insurance:
“This bill is first and foremost about public safety. It’s about knowing who is driving on our roads and doing everything we can to make sure those drivers are safe and that they’re operating registered, insured vehicles.”
I bring up the Connecticut example because I lived there when this debate was playing out in the legislature and I remember well that a commitment to improving road safety was the principle rallying point for both sides of the aisle to come together to pass the legislation. Much like Minnesota, Connecticut is a car-dependent society, that has an underdeveloped public transportation system. Before the REAL ID law was passed in Connecticut, there were tens of thousands of undocumented and unlicensed drivers on the roadways commuting to work, school and otherwise attending to their daily needs. This is precisely the situation in Minnesota, where there are likewise tens of thousands of undocumented and unlicensed drivers on our roadways.
I implore you to broaden the discussion on REAL ID and encourage you, our elected leaders, to ask more relevant questions, such as: Why aren’t we more concerned about utilizing this legislation to improve public safety in Minnesota? Why aren’t we asking for data from these other states to evaluate whether undocumented immigrant drivers are in fact getting driving-only licenses, registering their vehicles, and obtaining car insurance? And why aren’t we asking for data about the public safety and financial impacts of implementing such laws?
These are the kinds of questions that deserve answers before we move this legislation forward.