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March 6, 2023, Lansing, Michigan – About 20 Adrian Dominican Sisters and friends joined a delegation of more than 140 Michigan advocates, lobbying their legislators at the Michigan State Capitol for the passage of a bill that would again permit immigrants – regardless of documentation – the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license. For years, Michigan had such a law, but it was rescinded in 2008. The 2023 bill to reinstate that practice is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.
Drive Safe Advocacy Day was organized and sponsored by Strangers No Longer (SNL), a network of Circles of Support in Catholic parishes, congregations, schools, and immigrant communities to support immigrants, advocate for a comprehensive and humane immigration policy, and educate the public.
The Advocacy Day involved scheduled, 20-minute meetings of the advocates with their legislators. In all, 27 state representatives and 18 state senators met with their constituents to discuss the issue of allowing immigrants to have a driver’s license. Advocates came from around the state, from organizations such as Catholic and Protestant parishes; Catholic schools; immigration advocacy organizations; and congregations of women religious. In addition, participants met at the end of the day to share their experiences.
Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, an immigration attorney and Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Immigration Assistance Office, spoke in an interview before the event of the hardship of not having a driver’s license places on undocumented immigrants. “Especially in rural Michigan, there is no way for people to get around to any place – to go any place,” without a driver’s license, she said. “People are forced to drive without a license” in order to get to work or take their children to school, daily risking arrest and even deportation if they are stopped – and risking the safety of others who share the road with them, she said.
“In the past, there were no questions asked about immigration status” when an immigrant applied for a driver’s license, Sister Attracta explained. “You need a form of ID.” But if immigrants are not permitted to get a driver’s license, they are also not permitted even a state ID. Having some state identification “gives them some security when they go to pick up a prescription or at other times when they need to be identified.”
Sister Attracta cited incidents in which immigrants working with the courts for their immigration status had to pay people to drive them to go to court, to visit her office, or to take their children to school. “This is so unfair and unjust because if they had a driver’s license, they would at least have that much security – and it would save them a lot of money,” she said. “For many of them, it’s almost impossible. Many lose their jobs because they can’t get back and forth to work.”
In its suggested script for the meetings, SNL offered a similar rationale for the bill. “Most of us take for granted life’s routine tasks, such as driving to work, going to a doctor’s appointment, taking a child to school, going to church, or picking up groceries. All of these situations require a driver’s license.” In the script, SNL also emphasized that the bill would make provisions to ensure that immigrants who are not U.S. citizens would not receive voter registration – a concern of many who oppose the suggested law.
Most members of the Adrian Dominican contingent met with State Representative Dale Zorn (R-Onsted), each in turn speaking of personal experiences with immigrants and offering her own reasons for backing the legislation. A group of five Adrian Dominican Sisters brought forward the same case to State Senator Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe). In addition, the Adrian Dominican contingent was invited to a short, impromptu meeting with Senator Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Senate Majority Leader, who encouraged them in their efforts to lobby for the legislation.
State Rep. Dale Zorn discusses the proposal for a bill to permit all immigrants – regardless of status – to apply for a driver’s license.
“I found Dale Zorn to be a listening person,” said Sister Carleen Maly, OP. “I think we were mutually engaged because of his interest in clarifying what the need was.” As Director of the Adrian Rea Literacy Center, Sister Carleen is a long-time advocate for immigrants. “My personal reasons are our learners who are immigrants, primarily from Mexico.” She said 70% of the literacy center’s learners come from Mexico and another 20% from other Spanish-speaking countries. “For me, it’s personal from hearing their stories,” she said.
Sister Virginia “Ginny” King, OP, an Adrian Dominican Sister who lives in Warren, Michigan, met with her State Representative, Lori Stone (D-Warren). “She was so supportive,” Sister Ginny said. “She has supported previous times [a similar bill] has been introduced, but it’s never made it through.”
Sister Ginny noted the complications that arise for immigrants who are not permitted to get a driver’s license. “If you get into an accident, you lose everything if you are driving illegally,” she said. Immigrants need to have the legal ability to drive to work and to other daily activities, she said, adding the importance of treating all people with dignity. “We’re a country of immigrants,” Sister Ginny said. “We have to be welcoming.”
Sister Helene Kloss, OP, who recently moved to Adrian from Florida said the experience “was an eye-opener for me. I learned a lot listening to the questions and the experiences … of the other Sisters.” She said the idea of not having access to a driver’s license for the daily activities of life – taking children to school, going to a hospital, going to work – was new to her. Sister Helene said she was grateful for the opportunity to “show support for those who don’t have much, and they need to be able to drive.”
Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, was among the Sisters meeting with Rep. Zorn. “I got energy from talking to other people.” She added the participants in the meeting with Rep. Zorn were “engaging and alive about what is still to be done.” She was also impressed by the staff members and secretaries of the legislators, who were “very engaging and really seemed to be on top of why we were there – and thanked us for coming.” She was also impressed by the students who attended.
Sister Beverly Stark, OP, said she was impressed by a group of young immigrant students she’d seen, and the impact that they had on the legislator they met with. She said that her own participation in the lobby day was an important aspect of her own efforts at justice and peace. “I’ve had a long commitment to social justice, and I could see that this was an issue that demanded social justice and was willing to do what I could to help bring it about.”
Sister Patricia added her own commitment to advocating for the immigrants and for anybody who doesn’t have a voice. “We are speaking for the people to bring about justice,” she said. “I thought it was a solid use of our time and I think we made an impact as an organization.”
Feature photo at top: Members of the Adrian Dominican contingent head into the Michigan State Capitol for the Immigration Advocacy Day.
March 3, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – The elected leaders of five congregations of Catholic Sisters in Michigan wrote the following letter of support to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and State Representative Samantha Steckloff in response to a recent antisemitic threat to the two political leaders.
Dear Attorney General Nessel and Representative Steckloff,
We are alarmed and deeply concerned by public reports that antisemitism is on the rise in the State of Michigan and that you both were personally subjected to an antisemitic threat by a heavily armed Michigander. No elected leader in a democracy should ever face the threat of armed assault as you and Governor Gretchen Whitmer have encountered. The harmful repercussions of such violence are even more impactful when the threats are grounded in hatred of a leader’s religion, race, gender, ethnicity or sexuality.
As Catholic Sisters steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and as elected leaders of congregations of women religious who have served people of all faith traditions in Michigan for nearly two centuries, we write to express our support and prayers for you and your families – and for all our Jewish sisters and brothers facing such hate-filled violence. We thank you, Attorney General Nessel, for fully engaging our State’s Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism Unit in threats of violence against elected officials and call on federal authorities to take vigorous action against such hate crimes.
We pray that all Michiganders will join us in decrying antisemitism and in upholding the fundamental values of civil discourse in our democracy, respect for each other’s faith traditions, and love of neighbor.
Adrian Dominican Sisters (Adrian, Mich.) – Leadership Council: Elise D. García, OP, Janice Brown, OP, Bibiana Colasito, OP, Lorraine Réaume, OP, Corinne Sanders, OP,
Peggy Coyne, OP, Judy Friedel, OP, Mary Jane Lubinski, OP, Mary Priniski, OP, Mary Soher, OP, Sharon Spanbauer, OP
Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters (Grand Rapids, Mich.) – Leadership Team: Sandra Delgado, OP, Joan Williams, OP, Maureen Geary, OP, Megan McElroy, OP
Marist Sisters (Roseville, Mich.) – Leader: Linda Sevcik, SM
Servants of Jesus (Detroit, Mich.) – Congregational Leader: Paula Cooney, IHM
Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Monroe, Mich.) – Leadership Team: Margaret Chapman, IHM, Marianne Gaynor, IHM, Jane Herb, IHM, Patricia McCluskey, IHM, Ellen Rinke, IHM