Supporters of allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses rally at the Minnesota State Capitol. Credit: Tim Evans for MPR News

The Minnesota Senate voted early Wednesday to pass the Driver’s Licenses for All bill, allowing undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain driver’s licenses for the first time in decades.

The Senate voted 34-31 after a long night of discussion that began about 7 p.m. Tuesday and ended about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

“Some politicians were given the opportunity to do the right thing for over 15 years. And time and time again, they didn’t bring their votes,” said Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, the executive director of Unidos Minnesota, to the bill’s supporters at the state capitol. “But today’s a different day. We’re getting the work done.”

State DFL Senators Zaynab Mohamed, Bobby Joe Champion, Scott Dibble, Alice Mann, and Nick Frentz carried the bill in the Senate. Governor Tim Walz has said he will sign Driver’s Licenses For All into law if it reaches his desk. If signed into law, the bill will be implemented by October 1. 

“I have family and friends who have been affected by this issue for decades. And I ran on this issue,” Mohamed said. “This is your work. This is the people’s work.”

The bill passed the House on January 30.

Hundreds of people gathered in the state Capitol in support of the bill Tuesday night during a snowstorm. Many bused in from across the state to show their support.

Lauro, who is being identified by his first name only because of his undocumented status, is a single dad who has taken risks driving to work and taking his kids to school without a license. He said his life will change with the passing of Driver’s Licenses For All.

“I’m so excited and so happy for all these people, not just me,” Lauro said. “It’s not only for Latinos. It’s for the Asian community, the African community.”

Driver’s Licenses For All has been discussed at the state Legislature for years, but found a new surge of energy in 2023 with re-elected and newly elected DFL politicians controlling the House, Senate, and governor’s office.

The bill calls for the removal of a 2003 rule implemented by then-Governor Tim Pawlenty that required driver’s license applicants to show proof of legal residency in the United States, such as a social security number. Advocates have organized for more than a decade to change the rule, pushing similar iterations of the bill in the state Legislature without avail. 

During the Senate’s heated discussion, critics of the bill raised concerns about national security. For example, driver’s licenses can be used to board domestic flights. Senate Republicans proposed an amendment to the bill Tuesday that would require Driver’s Licenses For All to be implemented after REAL ID goes into effect in May 2025. REAL ID’s will be required to board domestic flights and enter some federal facilities after May 2025. 

Proponents of the amendment purport that REAL ID identity verification will keep undocumented people from taking domestic flights, especially if they pose a national security threat.

The amendment was struck down.

Other amendments proposed Tuesday, which also failed, suggested marking the licenses of undocumented drivers to designate the document for driving purposes only in order to prevent their use to register voters. Previous iterations of the bill, carried by Champion in 2013, included similar amendments. 

Champion said Tuesday evening that such markings would invite discrimination. There are already systems in place to verify someone’s citizenship when they register to vote that include reviewing documents other than a driver’s license, he added.

“Times have changed, and I really do believe that the marking now would be inappropriate,” Champion said.

The bill also includes data protections so that law enforcement who check a driver’s license during a traffic stop cannot access immigration data. Federal immigration authorities like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would also be barred from accessing immigration data through driver’s licenses unless they have a warrant to do so. 

State Driver and Vehicle Services officials have told Sahan Journal that they requested additional staff to accommodate a potential influx in driver’s license applications if the bill passes. 

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Here’s where undocumented immigrants in the United States can get a Driver’s License.

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C. 
  • Puerto Rico

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...