Drive SAFE bills center human dignity
Imagine trying to go about your day without being able to legally drive a vehicle.
How would you get to work? How would you take your kids to school or to their child care provider? How would you get to doctor’s appointments? How would you travel to and from the grocery store or pharmacy to pick up basic essentials?
Since 2008, that has been the reality for approximately 100,000 residents of legal driving age in our state who had the courage to immigrate to Michigan and make it their home but currently don’t have the documentation to prove their legal presence here. They are our neighbors, our friends, our local business owners, and our frontline workers. They are an integral part of what makes Michigan a great place to live, and, yet, the right to obtain a driver’s license was taken away from them 15 years ago.
We here at the Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan League for Public Policy, along with our other partners on the Drive Michigan Forward coalition, have been advocating for the restoration of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants for many years.
The fact of the matter is that there are many undocumented immigrants who are living, working, and raising families across every county in Michigan. Reinstating driver’s licenses for those Michiganders is an issue of human dignity. It would allow them to be tested to drive, to insure their vehicles, and give them the freedom and security to more fully engage in their communities and the state economy while also completing essential daily tasks without fear.
Undocumented immigrants in Michigan hold $2.5 billion in spending power, and that economic impact would be significantly expanded by improving those residents’ ability to travel in our state. Additionally, both job seekers and employers would benefit from the restoration of driver’s licenses for all as job seekers would be able to safely and legally travel longer distances for better, higher-paying jobs while employers would see larger candidate pools for job openings. That is especially important today, as our job market continues to struggle.
The economic benefits wouldn’t stop there, though.
By allowing all Michigan immigrants, regardless of immigration status, to obtain driver’s licenses, the League projects that 55,000 additional Michiganders would apply for a driver’s license over the course of three years, leading to tens of thousands of new vehicle purchases. Those new licenses and vehicles would boost state revenue by an initial $13.5 million and contribute $12 million in recurring annual revenue after the first three years.
Further, Michiganders could see their annual auto premiums go down by approximately $20 annually as a result of more insured drivers out on the road, and, with tens of thousands more Michigan drivers becoming insured and passing driver’s tests, roads would be safer and accidents would be resolved more quickly.
If you’re a resident of Alpena County, you may be thinking that policies impacting Michigan’s immigrant population are not particularly relevant to your community.
However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 382 immigrants — including naturalized citizens and noncitizens — living in Alpena County in 2020. Of that number, a majority were noncitizens — lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders), visa holders, undocumented residents, refugees, and asylees.
Additionally, if you look at the 2020 data for all 11 counties that make up northeast Michigan, there were more than 1,200 noncitizens in the region, with the highest numbers in Iosco and Alpena counties.
Those are not just numbers, though. Those are members of your community who have helped make Northeast Michigan a thriving place, and their impact would only be enhanced if they were able to legally drive.
It’s important to note that the Michigan Secretary of State has not only been involved in the drafting of the Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom, and the Economy) bill package recently reintroduced in the Legislature, but also regularly verifies noncitizens’ foreign documents, so that process is not new.
It’s also important to note that restoring a right to a driver’s license here in Michigan would not grant undocumented immigrants the ability to vote or otherwise obtain privileges of U.S. citizenship. It would, however, represent one small step that would increase safety on our roads, boost the state economy and, most importantly, treat people with the human dignity they deserve to provide for their families.
It would also contribute to a climate of inclusivity at a time when Michigan’s population growth has been lagging, with too few immigrants choosing Michigan as a destination.
We applaud the Michigan lawmakers who reintroduced the Drive SAFE legislation this past April and we urge the state Legislature to make this the year that Michigan joins the growing number of states across our country — 19 in total, in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — that have enacted laws to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.
We hope others will join us in supporting that commonsense and compassionate legislation. Visit drivemichiganforward.com to learn more and get involved.
Monique Stanton is president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy and Tom Hickson is vice president for public policy and advocacy at the Michigan Catholic Conference.