In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2003
DocumentSession 2003
DocumentBudget and Taxes
DocumentHigher Education
DocumentK-12 Education
DocumentHealth and Welfare
DocumentPublic Safety
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Drivers license restriction gets first approval
By a vote of 20-3, a House committee has approved a proposal requiring that state drivers' licenses indicate an immigrant's visa status. Supporters say the measure is a tool for law enforcement to maintain public safety. Critics say it makes scapegoats of foreigners and is a form of racial profiling.

St. Paul, Minn. — Bill author Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, says the requirements put forth in his bill are "simple," and not "earth shaking." He says 19 other states have enacted similar measures through legislation or emergency rule-making.

Stanek told the House Transportation Policy committee his proposal would put the words "status check" and a visa expiration date on state IDs or drivers licenses belonging to foreign visitors.

"If the status check differs from the standard expiration of the drivers license permit, or identification card, the applicant will be required to present federal documentation of extended legal presence to avoid cancellation of the state issued identification card," he said.

Stanek said cardholders could extend the status date by six months if they show proof of an application for extension or change of status from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Assistant Public Safety Commissioner Sara Schlauderaff testified in support of the bill on behalf of Governor Tim Pawlenty's administration. She called the proposal an important tool for law enforcement.

"The changes to the drivers license will assure that law enforcement officials identifying people when they do random traffic stops will have the correct information on someone's legal stay, legal status, in the country. And so it will give them the opportunity to check and see if they're out of status or what's going on," she said.

For critics of the bill, that description sounds like racial profiling.

St. Paul lawyer Peter James Nickitas told the committee it singles out non caucasian people to create an illusion of safety for the majority population.

"Speaking as a person of Jewish ancestry, I must say that our recollection of history is full of memory of countless instances throughout history where people were targeted by government for being who were, who we are, rather than what we've done," said Nickitas.

A sticking point for committee members opposing the bill is Stanek's insistence that law enforcement officers would not be required to do anything if they came across a person who's visa has expired.

He said officers would call up a 24-hour INS duty officer at a toll free number to ask what the INS wants to do with the person in question.

He wasn't sure, however, what kind of authority local law enforcement has in immigration matters.

Representative Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, was one of three committee members voting against the bill.

She says there are too many assumptions and unanswered questions.

"In this case, because they frequently put it within the context of 9/11, it presumes that we have identified, that immigrants, temporary immigrants, are the ones who are our threat. And in fact, we have ample evidence in this country, that citizens are also a threat to our public safety," Hausman said.

Representative Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said he voted against the bill because it sends the wrong message to foreign students and temporary workers.

Also under the proposal, a drivers license from another state would no longer be sufficient identification for a Minnesota drivers license. First-time applicants would also need to show a birth certificate or federal documentation of legal status.

If passed, the bill would make permanent a July 2002 Department of Public Safety emergency rule, approved by an administrative law judge. That rule is being challenged in state court by the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects