GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - After seeing what he calls their "passion and pain", Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell promises he will try to help illegal immigrants get a drivers license or identification card.
"We must respond," he told a crowd of immigrants at city hall Tuesday night. "We don't issue drivers licenses or identification cards in the city, but I know we must respond and figure out the most effective way to address your concerns with the State of Michigan."
The Mayor offered his support after immigrants, legal and illegal, spoke at the city commission meeting Tuesday night.
They are asking city leaders to pressure the Governor and Secretary of State to change policy and let undocumented residents get a drivers license for transportation and identification.
"I can't even go to the doctor, they ask for a document," explained one woman.
"Many of us are still driving to school, to work, to our churches," said another woman, who says she has no license.
"This is just a document that will help us move forward," added a man waving a drivers license over his head.
The Federal Government issues work permits to some undocumented immigrants under the President's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Policy.
To qualify they must have arrived before age 16, be under age 31, a U.S. resident for 5 years, enrolled in or a high school graduate and not a safety threat.
But unlike some other states, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson says even immigrants in the DACA program aren't eligible for a Michigan driver's license because they can't prove they are legally in the United States, as required under state law.
"What's going on with the Secretary of State?" Pablo Bello asked the commissioners. "Why is she not allowing drivers licenses for undocumented workers?"
"Not having a license is not going to reduce people driving," said Z.Z. Jasper. "It's only going to cause a situation where people are locked up for going to work to support their families."
"I sympathize with your request, not just for driver's licenses, but also immigration reform," Commissioner Elias Lumpkins told the residents. "Let's see what we can do."