Restoring immigrants’ licenses helps all

At first, state and federal policies to better support Michigan immigrants may not seem particularly relevant to the Alpena area.

But new research from the Michigan League for Public Policy shows that 684,000 immigrants are living, studying, working, and raising families here in Michigan, and that immigrants are a present and important part of the population in every single county.

The League recently released updated fact sheets on immigrants in Michigan and each county, which are available at mlpp.org/geographicfactsheets. Those snapshots include population data, breakdowns by immigration status, and changes in those numbers across the last decade for each of the state’s 83 counties.

In addition, the fact sheets provide a breakdown of region of origin, which shows the breadth and diversity of the immigrant communities that exist not only across the state but also within each county — including yours.

In Alpena County, the total immigrant population was 362 residents in 2019, the most recent year of data available. For that same year, 178 immigrants were living in Presque Isle County, 112 immigrants were living in Alcona County, and 98 immigrants were living in Montmorency County. Of those 750 immigrant residents calling Northeast Michigan home, about half were noncitizens — lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders), visa holders, undocumented residents, refugees and asylees.

As both a data- and policy-driven organization, the League works to connect statewide and local data with related policy recommendations to better support all Michiganders and improve our economy. Policies that explicitly include residents who were not born in the U.S. and remove additional barriers they face have the potential to impact communities all across the state, including in Northeast Michigan.

One important policy recommendation in the League’s immigrant fact sheets that would benefit area residents is the restoration of driver’s licenses and state IDs for all immigrants, regardless of their citizenship status. And that policy is particularly relevant, as legislation in both the state House and state Senate was just announced this week to restore driver’s licenses and state IDs for undocumented immigrants and certain visa holders — a right they had until 2008.

The bills are sponsored by state Reps. Padma Kuppa and Rachel Hood and state Sens. Stephanie Chang and Winnie Brinks, respectively.

But passing that legislation is not just about the hundreds of immigrants in the Alpena area or the hundreds of thousands of immigrants around the state who would be directly affected. Restoring driver’s licenses for immigrants would have widespread benefits to all Michiganders and our economy as a whole.

By allowing more immigrants to get driver’s licenses, Michigan would see more insured drivers, lower auto insurance costs, and safer roads. Under the legislation, an estimated 20,000 more Michiganders would purchase a new car, which they would insure and register with the Secretary of State. More insured vehicles could lead to lower auto insurance costs for everyone on the road.

The proposal would also allow more residents to participate in Michigan’s local economies.

Undocumented immigrants in Michigan hold $2.5 billion in spending power, and that economic impact would be significantly expanded by improving these residents’ ability to travel in the state. Allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses would also support Michigan’s booming agricultural industry, in particular.

The legislation could also be a boon for the state budget. Reinstating driver’s licenses for immigrant residents would boost state revenue by $13.5 million in the first three years and contribute $12 million in recurring revenue. Over the course of 10 years, the policy would generate nearly $100 million for the state of Michigan.

By restoring access to a driver’s license for immigrants, Michigan law can better support the business owners, parents, professionals, essential workers, and caregivers that are a key part of our communities. And it would allow more residents to more fully participate in our state economy and complete everyday tasks with dignity and without fear.

The legislation has a diverse group of supporters, including immigrant and policy advocates, law enforcement officials, farmers and small business owners, and members of the faith community.

With this week’s announcement of new legislation, the advocacy work in the Michigan Legislature begins. We hope you’ll join us in supporting that common-sense legislation, and you can visit drivemichiganforward.com to learn more and get involved.

Alex Rossman is external affairs director and Simon Marshall-Shah is state policy fellow at the Michigan League for Public Policy.


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