When legislators come back to the capitol next week, a conference committee will work to determine what path Minnesota will take to comply with federal Real ID rules. Real ID compliant driver’s licenses are already required to gain access to certain federal facilities and nuclear power plants, and early next year they will be needed to board airplanes. Most Minnesota driver’s licenses currently do not allow Minnesotans to access these facilities and airplanes.
The Real ID bills passed by the House and Senate would create a tiered system under which three kinds of Minnesota driver’s licenses would be available: Real ID compliant, non-compliant, and enhanced. Enhanced driver’s licenses are currently available in Minnesota at select DMVs and allow Minnesotans to board airplanes, but meet different criteria than the federal Real ID specifications.
Importantly, the Senate bill (Senate File 166) does not contain unnecessary language regarding non-compliant licenses for unauthorized immigrants. In contrast, the House version (House File 3) requires applicants to demonstrate lawful status even to obtain a non-compliant license. This language is unnecessary to implement Real ID and is duplicative: unauthorized immigrants are already unable to receive driver’s licenses in Minnesota due to an administrative rule made in 2003.
Driver’s licenses are often necessary for Minnesotans to have reliable transportation to a wider range of jobs and to work more hours, but the administrative rule restricting driver’s license access means that about 82,000 Minnesotans are unable to reach their full economic potential. Given the state’s tightening labor market, policymakers should have instead taken steps to expand access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. With wider access to jobs, people can more easily find employment that matches their qualifications and pays competitive wages. The Real ID debate disappointingly missed an opportunity to allow unauthorized immigrants access to driver’s licenses and the ability to more fully contribute to the state’s economy.
As the bill goes into conference committee, legislators should agree to language bill similar to the Senate’s, which does not include duplicative restrictions against unauthorized immigrants receiving driver’s licenses. And in the future, policymakers should expand access to driver’s licenses to all Minnesotans regardless of their immigration status.