Safe Roads, Strong Communities Draws a Crowd

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A large crowd gathered at St. Dominic Church Sunday to talk about the need for legislation allowing everyone to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of immigrant status.  Local members of ISAIAH, a statewide organization whose mission is to act collectively toward racial and economic equity, sponsored the gathering.

Following a lunch served by the Latino community, the crowd gathered in the St. Dominic sanctuary to listen to stories of local residents who reluctantly, but of necessity, drive without a license.  Father Denny Dempsy greeted the crowd.

 Three members of the Minnesota Legislature were on hand to hear the stories of residents of Rice County who must drive illegally, if at all. These illustrated the handicap lack of a license has on their participation in their community, employment and family activities. Speakers included parents and children and a high school ESL teacher.  One speaker said he had been in Minnesota since 1997 and had a license until four years ago when new legislation cancelled it.  A high school student mentioned how frightening it is to know her parents may be “hauled over” by the police and taken to jail.

Until 2003, persons without lawful immigration status could and did obtain driver’s licenses.  They are now excluded from the testing process that promotes safer roads.  Moreover, unlicensed drivers are more likely to drive without auto insurance.  According to

Website, currently, 11 states allow undocumented drivers to become licensed.  ISAIAH’s leaders are beginning a campaign to make Minnesota the 12th state to license undocumented immigrants.

The legislators were invited to respond and urged to support H.F. 97, Safe Roads MN:  Driver’s Licenses for All. Northfield Senator Kevin Dahl said it is a matter of safety and fairness. Senator Vicky Jensen of Owatonna thanked the speakers for their courage in telling their stories. She promised to do what she can to explain to her Senate colleagues the safety issues and the importance of ensuring that everyone is safe. Representative David Bly added that there is no question that lives would be greatly improved if the legislature passed this simple law. Representative Brian Daniels of Faribault was not in attendance.

The audience took a break to form small groups to talk about what they had heard, and to tell stories about their experience as unlicensed drivers. Rev. Todd Smith Lippert then asked everyone as they sat in the sanctuary, to take out their cell phones and call Representative Brian Daniels to urge his support and to invite him to a similar gathering in Faribault on Friday, March 20th.

In closing the meeting Rev. Todd Lippert noted the need for bipartisan support for the legislation to be successful and he called attention to the pledge sheet everyone received outlining how citizens can get involved in furthering that goal.

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