‘Drivers Licenses for All’ launches in October, officials answer questions before rollout

Prior to an official launch on Oct. 1, Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials offered details on a program that intends to offer "drivers licenses for all," regardless of current immigration status.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation into law last March that was the culmination of a long-running campaign to give more than 80,000 undocumented immigrants the right to drive legally in Minnesota.

According to officials, immigrants lacking permanent legal status will now be able to make appointments to begin the process of obtaining a standard Minnesota driver’s license or identification.

After progressing through the DFL-controlled House and Senate this past legislative session, Democrat lawmakers said the program received support from advocate groups and will make life easier for undocumented people.

On Tuesday, DPS Driver and Vehicle Services Director Pong Xiong, along with DPS Driver Services Central Office Coordinator Jody-Kay Peterson, discussed what future customers should expect when applying for a standard driver’s license or ID.

"Here at DPS we understand how important it is to have a license to access all of Minnesota's resources, from employment to health care," said Xiong.

The first step to acquiring a license will include a written test, for which an appointment must be made. Appointments are currently available, and can be checked through a state website that will offer windows for current opportunities 30 days in advance.

"We want to make sure we’re putting safe drivers on the road, which makes all of us safer," Xiong said.

Prior to a license test appointment, documents will be required to be submitted, such as a certified birth record, a Certificate of Birth Abroad issued by the U.S. Department of State, a report of Birth Abroad of a United States Citizen issued by a U.S. embassy or Certified adoption certificate from a U.S. court.

"We want to make sure that come Oct. 1, people won’t just walk away with a driver's license in hand," said Peterson, noting a permit will be granted first, then require three months of driving experience before taking a road test to ultimately receive a license.

A typical timeframe would be three to six months before a license will be issued.

Peterson said DPS will not be submitting any names to law enforcement for deportation consideration.

"Ensuring drivers in our state are licensed and carry insurance makes the roads safer for all Minnesotans," said Gov. Walz in a statement after signing the law in March. "As a longtime supporter of this bill, I am proud to finally sign it into law, making our roads safer and moving us toward our goal of making Minnesota the best state to raise a family for everyone."

However, Republican lawmakers have previously argued that broadening license access could further lead to unintended consequences such as fraud.

The law reverses a 2003 rule change by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose administration barred people without legal status from getting licenses in the name of security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.