Posted at: 03/19/2013 10:47 PM
Updated at: 03/19/2013 10:52 PM
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- As drivers across southern Minnesota face treacherous roads this week, some state lawmakers say there's an easy way to make our roads safer: allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses.
A new bill that would make that idea a reality has already passed through committees in both the house and senate, and supporters say it's a key step to ensuring public safety.
“It's actually quite important for all of us, not just undocumented people,” said Jeffrey Jurewicz, an immigrant’s rights advocate with Centro Campesino. “We need everyone who is driving to be educated on the rules of the road and insured, and this is a large step toward that."
The majority of undocumented immigrants do not enroll in driver's training because they can't get a license, and while some still drive, they do so without the necessary protection for both themselves and others.
“I personally know someone who actually hit a car and since they didn't have a license, they didn't have insurance,” said Maria Medina, an advocate with Pa Delante, a Latino youth leadership organization.
“They were scared, so what do they do? They keep driving, they don't stop. And issuing driver’s licenses and being able to get insurance would stop these hit-and-runs as well."
Opponents argue that issuing driver's licenses could lead to widespread voter fraud, a claim some supporters called ridiculous.
“People who are here legally as immigrants have driver's licenses and they don't vote. They can't vote either” Jurewicz said. “So really I don't see quite what the difference is here."
Advocates said it's not only a matter of public safety, it's a matter of improving the lives of people in our communities.
“Not having a license is a significant barrier to undocumented families, especially in living their everyday lives,” Jurewicz said. “Taking their kids to school, going to the grocery store, everyone needs to sustain themselves."
The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, but if passed it would make Minnesota just the fifth state to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The four that currently allow the practice are Utah, New Mexico, Washington, and Illinois.