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Opinion | Michigan’s undocumented immigrants deserve driver’s licenses

As Michiganders, we have a tremendous amount of pride in the things that we make and grow here. We are the second most agriculturally diverse state in the country, and it takes a lot of effort, and people power, to get our high-quality products from the farm to the table.

Dave Pagel
Dave Pagel is a farmer and operator of Dave Pagel Produce in Berrien Springs. He is a former Michigan state representative for House District 78.

Many of the farmworkers that are critical to ensuring that our crops make it to market are Michiganders that are undocumented immigrants. For them, every time they drive to work, to the doctor’s office, or to pick their kids up from their neighborhood school they run the risk of being separated from their family because they don’t have a driver’s license, a right they had until 2008. 

Right now, the Michigan Legislature is considering a package of bills called the Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom, and Economy) bills. These bills would restore driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in Michigan. Ensuring them the dignity and security they deserve as hard-working members of our communities will help move our state forward

As a farmer, each year when I begin to decide what crops I’m going to grow, that decision is based on the availability of quality labor to help get my products to market. I face all kinds of uncertainties with the marketplace and weather conditions, but knowing that I can rely on quality labor is critical to ensuring my success as a farmer. People might not realize it, but we all rely heavily on immigrant farmworkers to bring us the homegrown products we take so much pride in and depend on to live healthy lives. And it's because of hardworking immigrant farmworkers that we’re able to eat food grown in the U.S.A. Without their contributions to our agriculture system we would have to import more and more food from other countries.

Smaller family farms like mine rely heavily on local, skilled farmworkers, and the immigrant farm workers that provide skilled labor are truly essential to getting many of Michigan’s farm crops to market. It is only reasonable that people who contribute such a valuable resource should have the right to drive legally in our state. Our food system would be devastated without their contributions. It’s time we honor that contribution, and show Michigan’s immigrant community that we value and respect them by passing the Drive SAFE bills.

Immigrants built this country. They are woven into the fabric of our communities in more ways than most people realize, and their contributions to our daily lives are too many to name. Michiganders of all backgrounds are critical to the success of our state, and no matter what your background is or where you come from you should have the freedom to move freely, and participate fully, in your community.

Our immigration process is cumbersome, and it does not move swiftly, leaving far too many people in a state of limbo. On this, we must do better. As Michiganders, we know that regardless of your background, politics, or religion that we share some common values like freedom, safety, and family. That we all want to be able to take care of our families, and live happy healthy lives. Restoring driver’s licenses for Michigan’s immigrant community puts these values into action. The Drive SAFE bills will help put valued community members at ease, they’ll help make our roads safer, and they will generate more revenue for our state, small farmers, and small business owners. But above all else, passing these bills is the right thing to do. 

It’s easy to take things for granted, like the ability to move freely in your community, the ease at which you can go to your local store for a gallon of milk, or the fresh Michigan produce on your dinner table. It’s time we think about the people that work hard to put that produce on our tables and the sacrifices they make every day. It’s time to restore driver’s licenses for all in Michigan.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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