Bishop Kettler: Provisional driver’s license is good for immigrant families, public safety

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Time is running out in the 2019 Minnesota legislative session. Before adjournment on May 20, our lawmakers and the governor have many important issues to consider — one of which is a proposal to allow provisional driver’s licenses for our brothers and sisters who are undocumented. This legislation should be passed. The need is urgent for both immigrant families and the communities in which they live.

By Bishop Donald Kettler

Undocumented immigrants, who for decades were able to obtain a license, can no longer do so because of new rules at the DMV. The proposed measure would help many of our state’s immigrants who face difficulties in meeting basic needs, such as going to school, shopping for groceries and attending church.

The challenge is particularly difficult in rural areas where distances are great and there is no public transportation. If they are caught driving without a license, they risk being detained, deported and separated from their families. Breaking apart families isn’t the answer. A driver’s license would go a long way toward diminishing this fear and allow these families to more fully participate in the life of their communities.

Allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a provisional license isn’t a reward for breaking the law. It’s smart public policy that makes our roadways safer for everyone because those who apply for the license would need to take the same written and skills tests as other Minnesotans.

The number of uninsured drivers would also decline. After New Mexico passed a similar law, for example, the number of uninsured drivers dropped by 24 percent. Undocumented immigrants with provisional licenses also would have a way to identify themselves to law enforcement, which would help build trust between police and immigrant communities and make cities and towns safer for everyone.

These provisional driver’s licenses — also known as “noncompliant” licenses — could not be used as identification for voting purposes, and therefore would protect the voting rights of U.S. citizens. Those who apply for a license would also need to prove their identity by submitting a valid government I.D. issued by another country that meets certain specified requirements.

For people of faith, “welcoming the stranger” is a core belief. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many families came from Europe to central Minnesota with the hope of starting anew. Many were escaping poverty, persecution and natural disasters in their homelands, and the Church welcomed them.

In the same way, we are now called to welcome today’s immigrants — families who are coming from different countries compared to a century ago but who have the same hopes and dreams for a new life. Their human dignity and our humane response to their situation should not depend on their status.

For many years, the U.S. Congress and various presidential administrations have failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform measures to fix our admittedly broken immigration system. Sadly, given the tenor in Washington, it likely won’t happen anytime soon. But, in the meantime, we can pass measures at the state level that effectively address some of the realities we face for the benefit of all.

Establishing provisional driver’s licenses would be one step toward improving the situation for the 90,000 undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in Minnesota — immigrants who pay taxes and make positive contributions to their communities. It would improve public safety on roads and highways — for you, me, our families and everyone else who travels in the state.

Legislation for provisional driver’s licenses is needed and long overdue. Please urge your state representative, state senator and the governor to support this measure.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud

Author: Bishop Donald Kettler

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