A young girl sits in the front row Tuesday morning as Governor Tim Walz prepares to sign Driver's Licenses for All into law on March 7, 2023. The bill allows undocumented Minnesotans to apply for driver's licenses. Credit: Alfonzo Galvan l Sahan Journal

Governor Tim Walz signed Driver’s Licenses for All into law shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday, allowing undocumented Minnesotans to apply for a driver’s license.

“It’s done!” Walz said as he held up the signed bill.

A crowd of community members, activists, and lawmakers cheered, clapped, and pumped their fists in the air. “Sí se pudo! (Yes, they did [it]!)” the group chanted in unison.

The bill will be implemented October 1.

It’s a date 22-year-old Regina Olono Vidales, who is undocumented, with Unidos MN said she can’t wait for. Unidos Minnesota is a nonprofit organization that advocates for immigrants, and was one of the main groups advocating for Driver’s Licenses for All.

“I’m part of the few undocumented youth that still has not had a chance to get a driver’s license,” said Olono Vidales, who attended Tuesday’s signing.

The governor convened around 10:15 a.m. for a signing ceremony alongside lawmakers who sponsored the bill and several advocates who have been pushing for the legislation for years.

Attendees hugged, cheered, posed for photos, and FaceTimed with family members before the signing began.

“Es un momento histórico (It’s a historic moment),” one woman said.

“Todos vamos a poder dormir más tranquilos (Everybody will be able to sleep more relaxed),” said a man wearing a Unidos MN shirt who livestreamed the event on Facebook.

The largely Latino audience grew by the second as they awaited the governor. Walz greeted the cheering crowd with, “Hola (Hello),” as he entered the room.

“There are thousands of cases of people having to worry about driving their children to a birthday party,” Walz said before addressing how quickly advocates and legislators pushed the bill through this year. “For those thinking they’re moving too fast, it took 20 years!”

Gov. Tim Walz talks to attendees for the Driver’s Licenses For All law signing on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. Alfonzo Galvan l Sahan Journal

Freshman Senator Zaynab Mohamed, a DFLer who was one of the bill’s sponsors in the Senate, credited the work of others that led to the bill’s eventual passage this year.

“…To the people who have not been heard by the people in power for decades… we hear you and we see you,” she told attendees at the ceremony. “And I’m so privileged to be in this with you, and I’m so grateful you allowed me to be a part of this. This is work that has been done well before.”

The bill passed the Senate on a 34-31 vote on February 22, and passed the House on a 69-60 vote on January 30.

State DFL Senators Bobby Joe Champion, Scott Dibble, Alice Mann, and Nick Frentz also carried the bill in the Senate. Freshman Representative María Isa Pérez-Vega, DFL-St. Paul, and Representative Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored it in the House.

“I was in high school when those rights were taken away from our village, from our community, from our best friends, from our families,” Pérez-Vega said.

Pérez-Vega said it was an emotional day for her after spending much of the morning talking to friends, who come October 1, would be allowed to get a driver’s license.

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.

The bill’s signing gave attendees like Olono Vidales a sense of belonging. 

“I found out I couldn’t get one when I turned 16,” Olono Vidales said. “And that’s when you kind of start questioning things, and you’re like, ‘Why can I get a driver’s license? Why can’t I do the things that everybody else my age can?’”

Jose Gómez García, 35, showed up early to the bill’s signing, calling it a “historic” and “special” day.

“We are here today—it’s a special day, a historic day. After many years from when our privilege of getting a license was taken, today that privilege is being reinstated,” Gómez García said in Spanish.

After the signing, Walz took questions from the media and addressed undocumented immigrants, saying Minnesota is a state “where we protect your human dignity.”

He also reaffirmed his approval for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.

“We want to move you out of the shadows and make sure that in Minnesota, you are going to be respected, protected, and have the opportunity to thrive,” Walz said.

Gov. Tim Walz shows off the signed Driver’s Licenses For All into law on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. Alfonzo Galvan l Sahan Journal

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...