Michigan Faith Leaders Back New Bills to Help Immigrants Obtain Driver Licenses

By Kyle Kaminski

July 18, 2023

Pending state legislation would offer ID cards to all Michiganders, including undocumented immigrants, so everyone can safely travel the state, access vital services, and find employment. 

MICHIGAN—Jewish leaders from across Michigan are urging state lawmakers to pass a series of bills that would enable all Michiganders to obtain state identification cards or driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status. For them, it’s a matter of safety, dignity, and compassion.

“As Jews, we know that there are countless forces that compel one to leave their place of origin,” Rabbi Alana Alpert of Congregation T’Chiyah said in a statement this week. “It is our sacred responsibility to assure safety and dignity for all of our neighbors, papers or none.”

On Tuesday, the Jewish Community Relations Council, American Jewish Committee, and Detroit Jews for Justice published an open letter cosigned by Alpert and 25 other Michigan rabbis that urges the state legislature to pass a series of bills known as the “Drive SAFE” legislation—otherwise known as Senate Bills 265267 and House Bills 44104412.

The six bills—which were introduced in April and have since been referred to various legislative committees—would allow drivers licenses and state identification cards to be provided to anyone who can prove residency in Michigan, even if they’re unable to prove their citizenship. 

State law currently requires proof of citizenship to obtain a state driver’s license or state ID card. 

Faith leaders said various iterations of the six bills have been introduced at least five times over the last eight years, but each time they’ve been left to stall out in committees under Republican leadership. Last year, Republican lawmakers wouldn’t even give the bills a proper hearing.

With Democrats now in charge in Lansing, faith leaders say now is the time for quick action. This week’s open letter called for lawmakers to pass all six bills as soon as physically possible.

“The Drive SAFE bills are a win-win for everyone in Michigan: immigrants, new residents, and all Michiganders who seek safe streets,” Rabbi Asher Lopatin, one of the signatories, said in a statement. “As a Jewish community, we must care for strangers, having once been newcomers to America. This bill aligns with our core Jewish values of compassion and safety for all.”

Democratic lawmakers introduced the legislation this year as a way to enable more residents to travel freely across the state, access vital services like banking, and find paths to employment. 

The biggest proposed change tied to the Drive SAFE legislation: Michiganders who are unable to verify their US citizenship would still be able to access driver licenses and state identification cards—something that hasn’t been allowed under state law since it was amended in 2008.

“If you live in Michigan and have proven you can be a responsible driver, you should be able to obtain a license, regardless of your immigration status,” House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) said at a press conference in April. “The safety of our residents should not depend on whether the federal government has figured out our broken immigration system.”

Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that approximately one in five fatal crashes involved an unlicensed or invalidly licensed driver.

In this week’s letter, the rabbis contend that providing drivers licenses to all Michiganders would also underscore the state’s commitment to inclusivity, mirroring its already-robust efforts to create a safer and more equitable environment for LGBTQ people, workers, and women.

The open letter from the rabbis to the state legislature reads, in part: “We know from our history that it is painful and worrisome to be denied the same rights as our neighbors—to be treated as an ‘other.’ We will not stand for our undocumented friends and family to be treated this way.”

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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