Michigan Immigration Rights Activists Score Last-Minute License Victory

By: Bridget Clerkin April 19, 2018
Michigan legislators are working on a bill to create a state driver's license and ID for immigrants.

In an eleventh-hour decision made April 10, Michigan lawmakers tweaked highly contested language in a pair bills dealing with immigrant ID cards before sending the measures to the floor for debate by the state House of Representatives.

The potential laws in question lay out the structure through which both legal and undocumented immigrants—as well as those with incomplete or lost birth records—could acquire driver’s licenses and state IDs in Michigan, an idea intended to ensure everyone on the road is a tested motorist and playing by the same rules behind the wheel, according to the bills’ sponsors, State Representatives Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Dave Pagel (R-Oronoko Township).

But some immigration rights advocates argued the legislation forced undocumented residents to adhere to entirely different standards.

"Any designation that an individual is a noncitizen or reference to a person’s legal presence, is bound to lead to discrimination, raise the potential for racial profiling, and harm public safety," said Michigan Immigrant Rights Center attorney, Anna Hill, one of the advocates pushing for changes in the bills. "This type of marking on state licenses and identifications would send a message that certain Michigan residents have second-class status that could lead landlords, banks and other businesses, as well as a wide range of public services providers, to treat noncitizen residents differently."

The measures originally called for the legal status of cardholders and the expiration date of that status to be clearly marked on the identification, which rights advocates argued would make the holders stand out—and not in a good way.

Already wary of profiling, many immigration rights workers argued that pointing out such information on an ID card could only shorten the distance between any suspicion and legal retaliation for cardholders and send a message that it would be okay to treat such individuals differently than everyone else on the road.

It often takes a long time for federal computers to update after an immigrant renews his or her legal status, which could quickly make the ID cards out of date, advocates said.

In response to the concerns, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reworked the bill, removing any reference to an expiration date on the ID cards that would be set to coincide with any legal status of the cardholder.

The modified measures will now be up for debate before the entire Michigan House, and, if passed, will move on to the state Senate before potentially becoming law in the Great Lakes State. Should Michigan enact the legislation, it would be the 11th state to offer ID cards and licenses for undocumented immigrants.

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