Archbishop Hebda: Driver’s licenses for all is a ‘moral imperative’

| February 22, 2019 | 0 Comments
Archbishop Bernard Hebda talks at a Feb. 21 news conference at the State Capitol in St. Paul in support of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda talks at a Feb. 21 news conference at the State Capitol in St. Paul in support of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda joined a call Feb. 21 by immigrants, lawmakers, business and law enforcement representatives to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, calling the issue “a moral imperative.”

“I am honored to speak this morning on behalf of driver’s licenses for all, a legislative proposal that is long overdue in its passage and one for which there is an urgency to act,” the archbishop said. “As a religious leader, I wish to focus today on the moral imperative of backing this legislation.”

Undocumented workers need to be able to drive to work, school and church; to take care of their families; and feel secure, said the archbishop, flanked at a State Capitol news conference by dozens of immigrants, members of the agriculture and hospitality communities, and Democrat lawmakers House Majority Leader Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley and Rep. Aisha Gomez of Minneapolis.

It is difficult for many to imagine the hardship and stress of being an undocumented immigrant fearing deportation who is unable to drive, or is driving without a license, while trying to take care of the basics of living, the archbishop said.

“It is a terrible fear to impose on people and families in our community, and we must do something about it for our brothers and sisters,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Opponents of granting driver’s licenses to undocumented workers argue such immigrants are breaking the law by being in the country without legal status.

Archbishop Hebda said the failure of lawmakers in Washington to pass comprehensive immigration reform compels action in Minnesota to help prevent development of a “subclass of tens of thousands of people sitting in the shadows of our society.”

Allowing undocumented workers to apply for driver’s licenses does not reward lawlessness; rather, it enhances public safety, the archbishop said. Among other things, people at the news conference cited the need for drivers to know the rules of the road to obtain a driver’s license.

Representatives of the business community said undocumented immigrants are important workers in agriculture, hotels, restaurants and other areas of commerce. Many are entrepreneurs, they said.

Liz Rammer, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said the state faces a shortage of workers and allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses will help fill jobs. Rammer also is executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association, Minnesota Lodging Association, and Minnesota Resort and Campground Association.

Winkler and Gomez are among Democrat lawmakers backing the legislation. Winkler said they were confident several members of the Republican-majority Senate also will back the bill, which was introduced the same day as the news conference.

“We are absolutely committed to getting this done,” Winkler said.

Before 2003, driver’s licenses could be obtained in Minnesota without proof of legal U.S. residency or citizenship. But the rule changed, and the archbishop said it is time to again allow all people to apply for driver’s licenses.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference, which represents the public policy interests of the state’s seven bishops, also backs the initiative.

“I believe this legislation is an important human rights test,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Will we as Minnesotans embrace our brothers and sisters and help them in a way that costs us nothing as a community, or will we be overcome by what Pope Francis calls a ‘culture of indifference’ that fails in the duty to see the needs of others and respond effectively?

“I hope today that we as Minnesotans follow the most common biblical, moral exhortation to welcome the stranger, and remember that our families, too, were once strangers in this land, who arrived with the same hope that our undocumented community has today.”

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