MICHIGAN — As soon as Gema Lowe found out the License For All rally and hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 14, she shuffled her schedule around to make sure she could attend.
“I had to, like, scramble around to find someone to take my daughter to get her to her [doctor’s] appointment and mine was rescheduled,” Lowe said during an interview on Thursday. “So, that's the kind of thing that people had to do. Like, people drove from three hours away. They got up really early. They had to find out [a way] to take the kids to school.”
Lowe said 150 people drove from all over the state to attend the rally and hearing on the Drive Safe bills that would help undocumented immigrants access driver’s licenses and state IDs.
However, when they arrived, they quickly learned that it was canceled.
“We feel disrespected,” said Lowe, who's a community organizer with Movimiento Cosecha. “We feel that our time is valuable, that our work in Michigan as immigrants are valuable. And, we’re not given the time and the respect that we deserve.”
Lowe said the hearing was canceled by the Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth.
FOX 17 reached out to Wentworth's team and they said via email that several lawmakers had concerns about the policy itself and they needed to focus on the budget this week. So, he asked Rep. Jim Lilly to cancel it.
However, Lowe said the need for driver's licenses is dire. It helps the undocumented community perform day-to-day tasks.
“We can mobilize from home to school, from home to work, to the market, to church and that wasn’t an issue. So the Drive Safe bill is to reinstate that,” Lowe said. “We don’t realize how important those documents are until you don’t have them. Like, going to the hospital the first thing they ask you is, 'Can I see your—'; actually they don’t even say ‘ID’; they say ‘driver's license.’”
State Rep. Rachel Hood, who introduced the bill to the House, said she understands their frustration about the hearing being canceled. They too had several organizations — including the ACLU, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan and the Michigan Farm Bureau — ready to give their testimonies about the significance of driver's licenses along with many others.
“Reinstating driver's licenses for all of Michigan’s residents will allow over 100,000 undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain a driver's license or State ID,” Representative Hood said during a Zoom interview on Thursday afternoon.
Representative Hood said prior to 2008, the undocumented community was able to get driver’s licenses and state IDs easily. However, former Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion that stated that they were not considered Michigan residents under the law. So, things changed.
Representative Hood believes undocumented immigrants deserve licenses, considering how much they contribute to the city and state.
“Here in Kent County, immigrants contribute $3.3 billion to our local economy. That equates to over $300,000,000 in tax dollars a year for both local, state, and federal taxes,” said Representative Hood, who represents the 76th House District, which serves Grand Rapids. “This is a significant contribution to our economy and it can’t be overlooked. We’re losing out on great talent when we fail to allow driver's licenses in Michigan.”
Representative Hood said that the Speaker is willing to sit down with her and others to learn more about the dynamics of the bill.
Lowe said she and other community advocates are determined more than ever to get the undocumented community the respect they deserve.
“The sense when we left Lansing was a commitment that we will come back stronger and in more numbers, to keep fighting, to keep putting pressure until those bills are passed,” Lowe said.