On Saturday, more than one hundred community members gathered at the Washtenaw County Administration Building to urge Washtenaw County and the Michigan legislature to allow undocumented individuals to obtain driver’s licenses. Carrying signs and banging makeshift drums, participants marched through downtown Ann Arbor in a demonstration led by the Ann Arbor chapter of Movimiento Cosecha, a national nonviolent movement fighting for the protection of undocumented immigrants’ rights.
Movimiento Cosecha Ann Arbor wrote they are demanding driver’s licenses for everyone as driving without licenses causes the immigrant community uncertainty and fear. Filling the streets with signs and banners while chanting “¿Cuando? !Ahora!” (When? Now!), Spanish and non-Spanish speakers alike walked in solidarity.
In 2008, a 2007 Attorney General opinion was implemented requiring proof of legal presence for driver's license applications, which in effect denies licences to all undocumented people. Prior to this implementation, individuals only needed to prove their identity and Michigan residency when applying for a driver’s license.
Movimiento Cosecha organizer Sergio Hurtado explained driver’s licenses are important for undocumented immigrants to be able to drive out and perform the basic tasks such as running errands, taking their kids to school or going to work. Hurtado said the march had two purposes: to demand that Wasthenaw County pass a resolution in support of immigrants and to urge legislation be introduced in the state legislature that would give access to driver’s license to undocumented immigrants.
“We wanted the community to come out here and be united and show our presence, and show that in this political climate we are not afraid,” Hurtado said.
The demonstration comes during a period of heightened interest in the immigration system, with politicians touring facilities at the border. Immigration reform is also a main issue in the Democratic presidential primary, and has been a major talking point for President Trump.
Jose Alvarez, son of a member of Movimiento Cosecha, explained the impact of driver’s licenses from a youth standpoint. He said kids of undocumented immigrants are afraid, and he hopes that every time they go to the drug store, or even sports practices, they don’t have to travel in fear.
“It’s important not to be afraid just to go to the corner store sometimes,” Jose Alvarez said. “You don’t have to feel intimidated by the police every time you go in a car.”
Rudy Alvarez, member of Movimiento Cosecha, described the importance of reformed legislation for children and parents alike.
“I think everyone deserves the right to don’t live with the fear that you’re going to be stopped every time (you drive),” Rudy Alvarez said. “And kids deserve the right to live without the fear that every time their parents leave the house, they don’t know if they will come back or not.”
Molly Kleinman, program manager at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy attended the march to represent Bend the Arc, a national Jewish activism organization. She emphasized she feels it is important to support immigrants in her own community.
“There’s been a lot of attention that’s being made right now to all the things happening at the border,” Kleinman said. “(But) it’s really important for us to show up here too, and that’s now.”
Claire Hao contributed to the reporting of this article.
This article has been updated to accurately state only undocumented individuals are not allowed to apply for driver's licenses in Michigan. The article previously said lawful noncitizens were also denied licenses, which is incorrect.