Michigan education board backs letting undocumented immigrants get driver's licenses

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The State Board of Education has passed a resolution supporting a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to be issued driver's licenses by the state. 

The Michigan State Board of Education voted 6-1 with one abstention Tuesday to support the legislation that would change state law to allow all Michigan residents to apply for a driver’s license regardless of immigration status.

The Michigan State Board of Education meets in Lansing in  May of 2016.

The resolution by the Democratic-controlled board argued that a “parent's ability to legally drive a vehicle to and from school is a frequent necessity," Michigan Department of Education officials. The resolution also noted a "parent's ability to legally drive a vehicle to school functions before school and in the evenings when public transportation may not be available is essential to stay engaged in their child's education."

"It also notes that 'under-documented residents of Michigan who are parents of children in our schools are hindered from fully participating in their child's education because they are currently not allowed to be issued a Michigan driver's license,'" Department of Education spokesman Bill DiSessa said.

Officials with immigrant rights organization Cosecha Michigan said more than 20 community members from their group attended the board meeting, where some testified in favor of the resolution.

Some group members cited parents’ need to drive their children to school and the psychological impact of fearing separation from their parents by detention or deportation as reasons for the school board to pass the resolution.

Thirteen states allow residents to apply for driver licenses regardless of immigration status.  

Until 2008, Michigan immigrants were able to obtain driver's licenses regardless of their status.

In 2007, Republican former 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 illegal immigrants from getting Michigan driver's licenses.

Cosecha officials said other public institutions have passed resolutions supporting the bills.

"We are making unprecedented advances," said Ana Isabel, a member of Cosecha Michigan. "The fact that the State Education Board was having these conversations and passing a resolution gives me hope. It just confirms for me again that people power is what was missing in the fight for licenses."

Oscar Castaneda, community organizer with Action of Greater Lansing and a member of the Drive Michigan Forward Coalition, praised the board's resolution.

“It is one more step in this series of steps that are taking us slowly but surely to a more welcoming and just Michigan,” Castaneda said.

In August, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she supports the bills which were introduced last fall. They have not gained traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.