Immigration status will no longer disqualify more than 80,000 people from getting Minnesota driver's licenses under a bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday.
Supporters of the effort, dubbed "driver’s licenses for all," say it will improve public safety by ensuring that all drivers are licensed and insured, and have taken driver’s education courses. Backers included law enforcement, faith, business and immigrant rights groups.
"I feel incredibly proud of Minnesota," Walz said at the signing ceremony, surrounded by dozens of immigrants and supporters of the change.
Eighteen other states grant licenses to residents regardless of immigration status, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The new law, which takes effect Oct. 1, reverses a 2003 change by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty barring people without legal status from getting licenses, citing security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We’re going to erase 20 years of a bad policy and lift up the dignity of all Minnesota," Walz said.
Applicants must still pass written and road tests and attest to their address in Minnesota. They won't be asked for proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status. But they must provide identifying documents such as an unexpired foreign passport, a consular identification document with a photograph or a certified birth certificate issued by a foreign jurisdiction.
Critics argued as the bill made its way through the Legislature that eliminating the need to prove citizenship could create opportunities for voter fraud. Walz scoffed at that, saying there hasn’t been a case in the last 20 years of a driver’s license being used for illegal voting.