Bills Introduced in Michigan House to Expand Driver’s License Access

From the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

On September 22, 2016, Representatives Harvey Santana and Stephanie Chang introduced bills in the Michigan House of Representatives that would permit residents to apply for Michigan driver’s licenses and state ID cards without submitting proof of citizenship or immigration status.  This had been the state’s policy until 2008.

HB 5940 & HB 5941 (Driver’s Licenses)

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
Legislative Alert
September 22, 2016
House Bills 5940 and 5941
Primary Sponsors: Stephanie Chang (D), Harvey Santana (D)
Additional Sponsors: Dave Pagel (R), Vanessa Guerra (D), Erika Geiss (D), Jon Hoadley (D), David LaGrand (D), Jeremy Moss (D), Robert Wittenberg (D), Henry Yanez (D), Rose Mary C. Robinson (D), Christine Greig (D), Kristy Pagan (D), Leslie Love (D), Jeff Irwin (D), Marcia Hovey-Wright (D), Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D)
Bill Summary:  The bills would make specially-designated non-commercial Michigan driver’s licenses and state identification cards available to applicants who do not have proof of U.S. citizenship or immigration status. The bills eliminate the “legal presence” requirement for proving Michigan residency and they would specify types of documentation allowable for proving Michigan residency and identity for the new category of documents. HB 5940 would modify the section of the Michigan Vehicle Code relating to driver’s licenses and HB 5941 would modify the section relating to state identification cards.  The bills would forbid discrimination against – and heightened police scrutiny of – individuals holding licenses issued under the new section of the law.
MIRC was pleased to have assisted with the drafting of the bills together with Primary Sponsors Representatives Santana and Chang, with support from the National Immigration Law Center.  It was our pleasure to appear at a press conference on September 20 at the Capitol, which featured speakers including the legislators, Roberto Torres of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Tom Hickson of the Michigan Catholic Conference, and Hispanic American Council of Kalamazoo community member Edith Martinez and her daughter Yareli. Ms. Martinez shared the story of her struggle to travel between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor during Yareli’s many years of long hospitalizations following a heart transplant and lymphoma treatment. Although Ms. Martinez is now legally present in the U.S., she still has been unable to access a license due to her lack of access to the specific documentation required by the Secretary of State to prove her status. Representative Pagel spoke with feeling about his family’s history as apple growers and his support for Michigan’s farmworkers and their families.  The introduction of the bills was timed to coincide with National Welcoming Week.
Legal Background:
Since 2008, Michigan has required applicants for driver’s licenses and state identification cards to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or immigration status. This change has had significant consequences for all who use the roads.
Michigan law does not currently provide driver’s licenses or state ID cards to individuals who do not have legal immigration status, and many people who are U.S. citizens or in lawful immigration status have struggled to prove it or obtain verification. Significant delay may occur while the Secretary of State verifies certain categories of immigration documents with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services through their Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, and noncitizens who hold those statuses are often unable to obtain driver’s licenses during verification or reverification periods.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia have laws which allow some form of legal driving without proof of immigration status. Approximately 37% of undocumented immigrants in the United States live in a jurisdiction that allows them to obtain a driver’s license. No bill to restore licenses to immigrant drivers who lost them in 2008 has ever been introduced in the Michigan Legislature prior to these bills.
These bills do not relate to voting or voter registration.  Only U.S. citizens may vote.  Many noncitizens already hold driver’s licenses and state identification cards. No identification is absolutely required to register to vote or vote in Michigan.   So, expanding access to identification does not create any new opportunities for unlawful activity relating to voting.
The bills would:
  • Allow citizens and currently eligible immigrants who lack the documentation required by the Secretary of State to get licenses and state ID cards.
  • Widen the insurance pool and lower costs for all Michigan residents due to unlicensed and uninsured drivers submitting fewer claims.
  • Promote public safety by ensuring that drivers are trained, screened and tested; law enforcement will be able to more efficiently and effectively identify individuals they stop.
  • Increase workforce and economic participation by making it easier for individuals to travel to work, go to to the grocery store or doctor, rent an apartment, access health care, purchase insurance, etc.
  • Increase state revenue through vehicle registration and taxes on insurance premiums and car purchases.
More information regarding this history of Michigan’s driver’s license immigration requirements, REAL ID requirements, and the potential benefits of expanding access to driver’s licenses to individuals regardless of immigration status can be found in this memo (pp. 35-43) presented to the Michigan Law Revision Commission in 2015.