Protesters at the Capitol: Allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses

Maria Hernandez-Torres, left, poses with a sign that reads "give me my license back" at a protest in Lansing, Mich. on Sept. 16, 2020. (WWMT/Genevieve Grippo)

Protesters converged in Michigan’s Capitol on Wednesday, demanding that driver's licenses be made available to undocumented immigrants and others without proof of legal status.

A caravan of cars kicked off the rally as protesters chanted, honked and shared stories.

Driving from Kalamazoo, protester Maria Hernandez-Torres said she joined in on the effort after living in fear for almost two decades.

An immigrant from Mexico, Hernandez-Torres said she moved to Kalamazoo almost twenty years ago.

She said she had a driver's license through 2007, until the state of Michigan stopped allowing undocumented immigrants to renew their licenses.

“I fear everytime I drive in my own car or I'm driving with somebody else, I’ll get pulled over because you can get a ticket,” she said. “Then sometimes you can be deported.”

Hernandez-Torres said daily life without a license can be extremely difficult, making things like commuting to work, going to the pharmacy or opening a bank account more complicated.

“We do have families,” she said. “We just need the freedom to go to the store, go to the doctor and drive without fear.”

Organizers urged Michigan lawmakers to move a set of bills, called the Drive Safe Plan, to a public hearing in the House and Senate.

The Drive Safe Plan would allow undocumented workers to become licensed. The Pew Research Center said as of 2016, there were an estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants in Michigan.

The plan was introduced to the Michigan House and Senate in fall of 2019.

Cat Adorno, an organizer with Cosecha Michigan, the group that started Wednesday’s protest, called the right to drive without fear an essential right.

“A Licenses for All bill was introduced a year ago but they have not moved it forward since, and we’re tired of it,” she said. “It is time for our legislators to schedule public hearings and finally pass Licenses for All!”

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Lupita McCaffrey, a volunteer with Cosecha Michigan, the group that organized Wednesday’s protest, said she wanted lawmakers to know they would continue to speak up.

“Because the bill has only about four months left, we’re not going to let it be forgotten,” she said, referring to the end of the legislative session. “We are here to demand licenses for all, equality, for everyone.”

Proponents of the Drive Safe Plan said the bills would also promote public safety because in order to become licensed, people would have to pass the drivers test.

They said it would also lead to more cars being registered in the state, increasing state revenue.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Critics of the Drive Safe Plan say the proposal would allow undocumented people to be registered to vote. Supporters say that would not happen.

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