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New law allows undocumented immigrants to register vehicles in Minnesota

Maya Rao, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS -- Many undocumented immigrants can now legally register a vehicle in Minnesota, even as a measure to grant them driver's licenses failed to pass the Legislature this year.

A law signed by Gov. Tim Walz makes a consular ID an acceptable form of identification for vehicle title and registration transactions, following months of confusion among undocumented residents and auto dealers. Before the change, some had not realized they could not register their vehicles until after they bought them; auto dealers also struggled with the expense of buying back returned cars.

"That put a lot of dealerships and their customers in limbo," said Amber Backhaus, vice president of public affairs for the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.

It is not necessary to have a driver's license to own a vehicle in Minnesota, though car owners are required to have insurance. Some senior and disabled residents, for instance, have a vehicle in their name but have someone else drive them around.

Consular IDs, issued by consulate offices of foreign governments, are already accepted for home purchases, so the new measure "really provides some parity," said Backhaus.

The new law doesn't exclusively cover undocumented immigrants and can include foreigners who are here legally but lack a driver's license.

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Some immigrants and auto dealers said there was no problem registering cars with a consular ID before the new law, but DPS spokesman Bruce Gordon said that should not have happened.

Gordon said in a statement that it had not been acceptable before the new law to accept a consular ID. He said the agency has consistently informed deputy registrars of the proper identity documents. Those include a driver's license, passport or social security card.

If a deputy registrar accepted a consular ID as an identity document, he said, the agency's division of Driver and Vehicle Services should have caught it and sent the customer a "deficiency letter" indicating that he or she must supply a legally compliant identity document before the transaction could be completed.

Sometimes, he added, a long period passed between the time the customer was at a deputy registrar and when they would receive a deficiency letter.

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