Raquel Rosales of Shakopee has three school-aged kids she needs to transport around town and a job she needs to get to, but every time she gets behind the wheel of a car she gets nervous and thinks, “What if?”
Rosales is just one of many immigrants living in Shakopee illegally who do not have driver’s licenses because she is ineligible to apply under Minnesota law. Rep. Brad Tabke, D-Shakopee, is looking to change that with a bill he is co-sponsoring that would allow such residents to obtain driver’s licenses.
“Many people driving without a license have not gone through proper driver’s training education,” Tabke said. “However, they still need to get their children to school, drive to work and run errands. Creating the opportunity for everyone to get a license will force everyone to go through training and improve the safety of our streets.”
For people like Rosales, who has lived in Shakopee for 14 years, it would be a game changer.
“I have to drive, because I have my kids,” Rosales said through an interpreter. “And the problem in Shakopee is no public transportation. And I can’t depend on other people. The people are too busy, so it’s difficult.”
In Minnesota, car insurance is required by law. Many insurance companies won’t insure unlicensed drivers, but Rosales said Progressive was willing to insure her three vehicles to the tune of $300 per month.
“(Because) I don’t have a driver’s license, my insurance skyrockets,” she said.
If she were legally able to obtain a driver’s license, she would. Not only would her insurance costs likely go down, but she wouldn’t have to live in fear of being pulled over and given a citation she can’t afford or having her car towed. Being in the U.S. illegally, there’s always the nagging fear of deportation, which Rosales said would be devastating for her family since her three children are American citizens.
When Rosales and her husband leave the house, the kids worry if they don’t hear from their parents for a while, thinking they could have been pulled over and arrested.
“It’s hard because instead of teaching your kids and being secure, you always have to be thinking of ‘what if?’ If that situation were to happen, what’s the plan?” Rosales said.
For Azalia Padilla, who also lives in Shakopee illegally, having a driver’s license would boost her confidence when it comes to driving and the fear of getting into a crash.
“I do know how to drive,” she said. “But it’s for everyone’s safety. If we have any accidents there’s going to be a good cover from our side. It’ll be an equal situation, and it’s better than struggling with someone who doesn’t have insurance and a driver’s license.”
From a law enforcement perspective, the bill does have the potential to increase public safety, according to Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen and Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate.
According to Hennen, the law didn’t specifically exclude residents living here illegally from applying for driver’s licenses until around 2003. So Tabke’s bill would basically return the law to what it used to be.
“For public safety on our roads, the bill would… provide an opportunity to have more licensed and trained drivers on our roadways,” Hennen said.
Aside from that, it would help ensure law enforcement officers know who they’re dealing with on traffic stops.
“I think there are officer safety components of this that people don’t consider,” Tate said. “For us it’s better to know who they are and have an actual photo ID. We get a lot of fakes.”
When Tabke posted on the Facebook group called Concerned Citizens of Shakopee looking for feedback on the bill, he was met with vast opposition. The post garnered more than 1,000 comments, with many people commenting that driver’s licenses should be a right reserved for legal citizens only.
While Tate understands this issue is not cut and dry because of federal immigration laws, he hopes people will take a step back when evaluating their views of the bill.
“I think it’s important when people consider something like this to take a deep breath — whether you’re for a (border) wall, against a wall, whatever your political opinion is — and put yourself in a squad car on Highway 101 at 10:30 at night when you’re at a traffic stop,” he said. “Do you want to know who that person actually is and have a photo ID and know they have, and can have, insurance and have passed their driver’s license test?”
Some skeptics of the bill have expressed concern about a driver’s license making it easier for someone who is undocumented to vote, but Tabke said the bill is written to prevent that. Driver’s licenses would specify they are not for voting, and people in the U.S. illegally will remain ineligible to apply for Real IDs, which are the type of licenses needed to fly domestically or to enter federal facilities, so they’ll only have access to a standard driver’s license.
Though there is no companion bill in the Minnesota Senate yet, the bill was passed among House committees for the past month and as of March 20 was on its second reading after being referred to the Government Operations Committee.
“I understand this is a controversial issue for many people,” Tabke said. “I simply ask that you consider the future as part of your thought process.”