Some States Weigh Whether To Grant Driver’s Licenses To Illegal Aliens While Others Weigh Strengthening Bans
FAIR Take | January 2023
With the implementation requirements of the federal REAL ID Act set for next year, many states are considering whether to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. Others look to strengthen or tighten their bans on issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.
Bills Granting Drivers Licenses to Illegal Aliens: Minnesota Moving Fast, Others Anticipated
The fastest and most aggressive push so far this year to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens has come in Minnesota, where the November elections flipped the state Senate from Republican to Democrat control, giving Democrats a trifecta for the first time since 2013 (a trifecta is when the same party controls both chambers of the legislature and the governorship). A pair of companion bills, House Bill File (HF) 4 sponsored by Representative Aisha Gomez (D-Minneapolis) and Senate File (SF) 27 by Senator Zaynab Mohamed (D-Minneapolis), were introduced when the legislature convened on January 4, and both have been advancing through their respective chambers.
Democrats in the House have a larger margin (by six votes) and have been moving the House bill more quickly. HF 4 has already passed four hearings in three Committees and is scheduled for a floor vote on January 30. However, Democrats only control the Minnesota Senate by one vote. The Senate bill has had two hearings before the Senate Transportation Committee, which voted on January 23 to amend the bill and re-refer it to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. FAIR staff submitted testimony in opposition to both bills.
If legislation to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens reaches Governor Tim Walz’s (D) desk, he will sign it into law. He has spoken at several open-borders rallies in favor of the legislation. Given the close margin in the Senate, however, Senate President Bobby Joe Champion (D-Minneapolis) has “urged patience” among the bill’s supporters, at least suggesting its passage is not certain. A single Democrat senator flipping to vote against the bill or even merely abstaining would defeat it because an abstention would lead to a tie and in Minnesota tied votes fail.
In addition to Minnesota, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Nebraska have introduced bills to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. In New Hampshire, House Bills (HB) 374 and HB 375 by Representative George Sykes (D-Lebanon) were heard in the House Transportation Committee on January 24 but have not yet received a committee vote. Indiana Republicans Sen. Blake Doriot (Goshen) and Rep. Joanna King (Middlebury) have both sponsored bills to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens in the Republican-controlled legislature. Supporters expect the bills will at least get committee hearings. Finally, in Nebraska, Sen. Tom Brewer (R-Gordon) introduced a bill to specifically authorize driver’s licenses for immigration parolees, asylum applicants, DACA recipients and anyone else given work authorization by the administration regardless of whether they are actually lawfully present under federal law.
While Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have not yet introduced bills this session to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, it is expected they will. All three states have had bills in previous years. Like Minnesota, Michigan now has a Democrat trifecta and is the most likely of these states to advance a driver’s license bill through the legislative process. However, there is a chance a bill could be stopped there since Democrats only control the state Senate by one vote.
There has also been a push from open-borders groups for a bill to give illegal aliens driver’s licenses in Idaho. However, there has not been any legislation introduced yet to date and it would face a big hurdle in the heavily Republican legislature.
Strengthening Bans on Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Aliens
Most states still do not grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. However, many states’ laws addressing these bans are ambiguous and some have loopholes that could allow illegal aliens to get them regardless. For example, in many states, state law allows lawfully present non-citizens, such as those on work, tourist, or student visas, or visa waivers, to obtain a driver’s license, but the expiration date of the license can outlast the end date of the alien’s authorized stay.
In Texas, SB 430 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) would make noncitizen drivers’ licenses expire on the earlier of the first anniversary of the issuance of the license, or the expiration date of the alien’s temporary period of lawful presence. The bill was introduced on January 12. While there is not a House companion bill yet, new bills can be introduced until March 10.
North Dakota already has a law like that proposed in Texas to align driver’s license expiration dates with visa or other temporary lawful stay expiration dates. Its new bill, HB 1493 by Rep. Matthew Heilman (R-Bismarck), would define lawful presence to be the same as federal law and specifically exclude from driver’s license eligibility immigration parolees, DACA recipients and those who have merely applied for asylum rather than actually been granted asylum. This is meant to ensure the state is not giving driver’s licenses to individuals who the federal administration is lending a veneer of legality yet who are still not lawfully present in the United States under federal law. HB 1493 does not have a Senate companion bill; however, there are two Senate cosponsors in addition to its seven House cosponsors. The North Dakota legislature is set to adjourn on April 28, giving the bill plenty of time to get through both chambers.