From staff and wire reports
LANSING – The Michigan Senate took a step yesterday toward reversing a law that prevents many legal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses in Michigan.
By a 28-9 vote, the Republican-led chamber approved a bill that would allow legal immigrants to get temporary licenses. Some Democrats voted against the measure because the state has become embroiled in a broader debate about whether it should quickly comply with upcoming requirements of the federal Real ID Act, a law aimed at stricter identification measures in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks
Some Democrats said the Real ID issue should be kept separate from a quick fix to allow legal immigrants to get behind the wheel. The measure that passed yesterday is now headed to the Democrat-led House and is part of a package aimed at starting compliance with Real ID.
Some Democrats supported the bill, however, saying it was important to move along the legislation so legal immigrants could resume getting licenses as soon as possible.
“This is just the first step in the legislative process,” said Sen. Michael Switalski, a Democrat from Roseville who voted in favor of the bill. “We need to get moving immediately.”
Republicans argued that Michigan should take more sweeping steps to secure its driver’s license and identification procedures sooner rather than later.
“We shouldn’t be dragging our feet on these bills,” said Sen. Alan Sanborn, a Republican from Richmond.
Businesses and universities are urging quick action because somelegal immigrants have already been denied driver’s licenses since the new policy went into effect late last month. The policy affected many international students at the University of Michigan when it was enacted. Many of them were pleased to hear about the bill’s passage in the state Senate yesterday.
Rackham student Hsien-Chang Lin, president of the Taiwanese Student Association, said the law change was especially hard on international students. Without a form of state identification, most of them have only one form of identification – a passport.
Because of this, international students without state ID often have to use passports for casual everyday purposes like making purchases with a credit card. But that’s risky, Hsien-Chang said.
“We’d probably have to go to the embassy to get a new passport,” Hsien-Chang said. “If we lose it, it’s not only a problem that we have to reapply, but someone else may have it and try to use it.”
LSA sophomore Erina Uozomi, a permanent resident of El Salvador, said she’s glad that the bill passed in the Senate, but is insulted that it even has to be addressed.
“The fact that you are an international student here and registered in the University is already grounds to attain a driver’s license,” she said.
State officials say there are nearly 400,000 foreign businesspeople, students and their families in Michigan on visas. There are 5,429 international students at the University of Michigan.
Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land stopped giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants Jan. 22.
– Matt Aaronson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.