LANSING — On May 24, dozens of protesters gathered at the state Capitol demanding legislators pass bills to expand who can get driver’s licenses in Michigan.
Bills have been reintroduced to ensure all Michiganders can obtain a state ID or driver’s license regardless of their immigration status.
Adja Ndoye, a program manager for the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs, said she was undocumented for 10 years and wasn’t eligible to get a license during that time.
“I couldn’t even find job,” Ndoye said. “But that was you know, like far away. So I had to sell just sometimes some stuff in front of my house, because I couldn’t go anywhere. So it definitely limits your movement.”
Currently only immigrants who can prove they entered the U.S. legally and can work in the country are eligible for a driver’s license or ID in the state.
“This is an issue of human dignity. This is an issue of identifying yourself,” said Adonis Flores, the organizing director for Michigan United, the group behind the protest. “When everyone is able to get an ID, the police and law enforcement are better able to identify who is on the road.”
In 2008, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting undocumented immigrants from being able to obtain a state ID or driver’s license.
The new legislation would reverse that.
Michigan Democrats reintroduce legislation allowing driver licenses regardless of immigration status
After failing to get a hearing last session when Republicans controlled the legislature, bills were reintroduced Wednesday by majority Democrats, allowing Michigan residents to obtain state identification cards or driver licenses regardless of their immigration status.
At a press conference to announce the Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom and the Economy) bill package, House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) was joined by state Reps. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) and State Sens. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) and Erika Geiss (D-Taylor).
The legislation would allow individuals who can prove residency in Michigan, but are unable to produce records verifying citizenship to access driver licenses and state identification cards.
“Our legislation will finally allow all Michiganders to engage in our economy, have access to basic freedoms and do so with the guarantee of safety,” Aiyash said. “If you live in Michigan and have proven you can be a responsible driver, you should be able to obtain a license, regardless of your immigration status. The safety of our residents should not depend on whether the federal government has figured out our broken immigration system.”
A previous attempt to pass the legislation was stymied in 2021 when former House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) canceled a long-awaited hearing just hours before it was set to begin. The hearing was never rescheduled that term.
“This is the second time I’ve sponsored this legislation,” Hood said. “Michigan has almost 700,000 immigrants contributing to our vibrant communities. These individuals come from a wide variety of backgrounds, talents and trades — before 2008, they were allowed access to receive state identification — it’s time they get this right back. It’s been 15 years too long.”
Studies by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have found that approximately one in five fatal crashes involved an unlicensed or invalidly licensed driver.
Also supporting the legislation is the Drive Michigan Forward coalition, made up of business, religious and social justice organizations, including the Michigan League for Public Policy, We the People Michigan, ACLU Michigan, Progress Michigan, MI Farm Bureau, the American Federation of Teachers–Michigan and the MI Catholic Conference.
“Whether you’re a first or fifth generation Michigander, we all want to be able to provide and care for our families,” said Nelly Fuentes, statewide immigration strategist with We the People Michigan. “To do that, we all need to have the right to obtain a driver’s license, regardless of how long we’ve been here or what paperwork we have, and move around without the fear that caring for our loved ones will make us a target. The Drive SAFE bills go a long way towards restoring dignity and peace of mind for Michigan’s immigrant community.”
Chang said it was urgent that the Drive SAFE bills be passed this year.
“I am proud to stand with the coalition to introduce these bills for the fifth and final time, because we are going to work extremely hard to finally make the Drive SAFE bills a reality once and for all,” she said. “Immigrants and others in Michigan are counting on us to restore access to driver licenses and state IDs and we will be a better state when we do so.”