The Catholic Spirit: ‘Driver’s Licenses for All’ – a broader perspective

1986. It has been 37 years since we have had comprehensive federal immigration reform in this country. Over the years, such reform has been backed by the Better Business Bureau and many policing entities and community organizations across the country. But the use of reason when addressing this issue has been clouded by political posturing and fearmongering.

And yet, those who have befriended and worked with undocumented immigrants know many of them as hard working, long-suffering people. Most come to the United States searching for a better life for their families — both in their country of origins (sending money back to extended family) and here in the U.S. (seeking opportunities for themselves and their children). They are human beings who might have overstayed legal visas or undertaken perilous journeys to come to this country to work, just like my immigrant grandparents did in the early 20th century. Unlike my grandparents, however, these immigrants often have no realistic, legal way to regulate their status because the federal process is broken. Nonetheless, they bring a strong work ethic, cultural traditions and God-given gifts that enrich our churches, schools, communities and society.

Many families in my faith community are of mixed status: undocumented parents who have U.S.-born citizen children. I have been at Ascension in north Minneapolis for 15 years. People I knew as children are now young adults who have graduated from high school or college and are bilingual, bicultural contributors to our society in health care, education, social work, engineering, construction and other professions. Others have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status and use their education and status for entrepreneurial endeavors that stimulate the economy and create jobs. They often care for their undocumented parents and relatives by taking out mortgages to provide a home and help pay household expenses.

These children know that their parents sacrificed much and took great risks for them. Many of those parents drove every day without a license because in Minnesota, since 2003, undocumented individuals had no access to a driver’s license.

I have been involved in advocating for our immigrant brothers and sisters for the past two decades to help them gain access to driver’s licenses. I worked on this issue as the director for Latino Ministry for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (1998-2008) and as a pastoral associate at Ascension (2008 to present). I know that having a driver’s license means eligibility for car insurance and an ability to drive children to school, have readier access to medical appointments and shop for groceries with less fear and trepidation. It means being able to drive to work, access jobs that require licenses and visit relatives in other states.

Overall, granting driver’s licenses to all residents of Minnesota fulfills a foundational premise of Catholic social teaching. It promotes human dignity and advances the welfare of society.

Thank you, Archbishop Bernard Hebda and the Minnesota Catholic Conference for encouraging lawmakers in our state to pass the “Drivers’ License for All” bill this past legislative session.


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