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Detroit protesters march to demand licenses for undocumented immigrants

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Protesters lead a march down West Vernor in southwest Detroit on May 1 to demand licenses for undocumented immigrants in the state.

Detroit — Michigan activists joined marches Wednesday to demand driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants in the state.

The marches, led by activists with Movimiento Cosecha Michigan, which fights for permanent protection for immigrants, drew hundreds of protesters in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. 

Organizers are calling for the passage of a law that would allow all Michigan residents to apply for a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. 

More than 150 protesters marched from Patton Park taking West Vernor to Clark Park, chanting "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here." People who couldn't walk the two miles followed in cars, blocking traffic on West Vernor, holding signs out the window reading el iGrito por las licencias (scream for licenses).

The Michigan People's Defense Network held a large banner reading "no ban, no wall, no ICE raids, no deportations."

Sandy Gaytán, a Detroit organizer in the march, said undocumented immigrants are being harassed for not having licenses, and are profiled and detained by officers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

"About 80% of moms and dads who are currently in detention are arrested for driving without a license and are being caught that way and held for ICE," Gaytán said. "People are terrified to get behind the wheel fearing getting stopped by ICE but if they want any life to live, they have to get behind the wheel each day to take their kids to school, go to the store and go to work to make a living.

"The intense political climate is feeding the detention centers here in Michigan and we need to pass a legislation to protect them and the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S."

The planned day of action is in coordination with Driving Without Fear immigrant marches across the country, including in New Jersey, Indiana, Georgia and Wisconsin.

About 150 protesters march on West Vernor in southwest Detroit on May 1 to demand driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants in the state.

Currently, 12 states allow residents to apply for driver licenses regardless of immigration status. Michigan allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses until 2008.

In 2007, former Republican Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion saying driver's licenses could not be issued to undocumented immigrants. The Legislature then passed a law banning undocumented immigrants from getting Michigan driver's licenses.

No bill has been introduced in the current legislative session, officials said.

Organizers encouraged Michigan immigrants and allies to be absent from work, and to keep children home from school, and businesses to close, officials said.

Residents from cities including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Alto, Ionia, Grand Ledge, Grant and Holland joined in the protests, organizers said.

"For too long, undocumented immigrants in Michigan have driven with the fear that we may be arrested, detained and even permanently separated from our families and deported for simply driving without a license to work, to pick up their kids from school, or to the hospital," said Gema Lowe from Movimiento Cosecha Grand Rapids. "...Together, we will show the power and dignity of our community.”

Jamika Ruffin and her fellow members of Detroit's Fight For 15 joined in the Detroit march. 

"It's time for a change," said Ruffin, 26, of Highland Park. "We need to stand united as one to get stuff done and that's what we're doing here."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_