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Lawmakers vote to let undocumented immigrants get MN driver's licenses

The Democrat-controlled state House approved a new bill on Friday.

A push to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain Minnesota driver's licenses has cleared a major legislative hurdle.

On Friday, the state House passed HF 1500, a bill that would amend the approval process for driver's licenses and identification cards.

According to the language of the measure, if approved, the new law would let a person "obtain a driver’s license or Minnesota identification card without providing proof of legal presence in the United States."

If it becomes law, it wouldn't exactly be new to Minnesota. Until a rule change in 2003, driver's licenses were obtainable by any state resident. 

A movement to restore this system was revived earlier this year by a coalition of Minnesota lawmakers (mostly Democratic), immigrants rights activists, unions, nonprofits and faith-based organizations.

The reason? Public safety is a big concern. One of the groups behind the movement, Freedom to Drive MN, says "Minnesotans are safer when more of the drivers on our roads are trained, tested, licensed, and insured" — something undocumented drivers are currently prohibited from.

As it's been pointed out before, statistics show unlicensed drivers are twice as likely to be involved in fatal crashes as those with valid licenses. 

Economics are another concern. One major supporter of the measure, Minnesota House Majority Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler, has said all Minnesotans "deserve to be able to work, live and take care of their families," adding that increasing access to driver's licenses would "grow the state economy."

There is plenty of opposition to the bill, however.

As the Pioneer Press notes, the measure passed mostly along party lines, "with all but a few Republicans voting against it" — many of whom slammed it as "an incentive for illegal immigration."

The GOP has also opposed licenses for undocumented immigrants over concerns about voter fraud, and has suggested it would be unfairly rewarding people who have flouted the law by coming to American illegally.

Friday's passage is the first step in what's likely to be a long journey for the legislation; according to the state legislature's website, there's still no companion bill in the Senate. 

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