I grew up in New York City, where the roads are wild. Drivers are forced to zig-zag between professional pedestrian jay-walkers, unloading trucks taking up one and a half lanes of a two lane road, and people trying to slap the hood of your car like Dustin Hoffman. Roads in Michigan are their own beast — fast drivers, left-lane merges onto highways, and enormous potholes on every other block.
That’s enough stress for me, but for undocumented Michiganders — who haven’t been able to get drivers’ licenses since 2008 — those stressors are amplified. Without a license, the consequences for getting into an accident (no matter whose fault it is) or getting pulled over are far higher.
Without car insurance, undocumented Michiganders have to cover the full costs of accidents themselves; the fines for driving without a license can throw a wrench in the financial plans of working-class families; and there is always the possibility of family separation. No one should have to deal with that level of anxiety in the course of trying to get across town.
That’s why undocumented Michiganders have been organizing to win driver’s licenses for all — for almost a decade. They wrote the Drive SAFE bills, and introduced them into the Michigan state legislature in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021. Each time the bills didn’t make it out of committee.
In April 2023, House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), state reps Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) and state senators. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) and Erika Geiss (D-Detroit) reintroduced legislation to allow all Michigan residents to obtain state identification cards or driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status.
Detroit Jews for Justice has been supporting the legislation through our participation in the Drive Michigan Forward Coalition for years — and we are determined to make this the year it passes. We are amazed at the way the undocumented community has identified this critical need and organized for it in a disciplined, strategic way. That is one kind of political organizing we aspire for the metro Detroit Jewish community to embody.
To support the legislation, DJJ partnered with the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC to gather 26 Michigan Rabbis to sign a letter calling on the Michigan legislature to pass the Drive SAFE bills. We hope readers will join these rabbis in advocating for their undocumented neighbors. Here is the letter with the signatories:
Undocumented Michiganders deserve dignity and security—one critical step to making that a reality is to restore driver’s licenses for all. Over the last seven years, undocumented Michiganders and their allies have gotten the Drive SAFE bills introduced five times, but the bills have never passed. That wait cannot continue. We, the undersigned Michigan Rabbis, call on the Michigan Legislature to pass the Drive SAFE bills in this legislative session.
This is common sense legislation. In Michigan, home of the auto industry, a driver’s license is key to moving freely and safely. Driver’s licenses allow people to go through the basic activities of everyday life—getting groceries, dropping off children, commuting to work—without the fear they will get separated from their families. Further, driver’s licenses for all will make our roads safer since more people will have taken driving lessons and have access to car insurance. And lastly, Michigan is experiencing population decline—just as we want to make Michigan safe for LGBTQ+ people, workers, and women, this legislation will show that Michigan is a place immigrants can build lives.
As Jews, we are especially called to join this effort; we know from our history that it is painful and worrisome to be denied the same rights as our neighbors — to be treated as an other. We will not stand for our undocumented friends and family to be treated this way. As Jews, we also know that whether we’re walking down the streets of our neighborhoods or through the doors of our holy spaces, freedom and safety for any of us depends on freedom and safety for all of us. Together we can build a Michigan for all of us, no exceptions.
That is why we — a group of Rabbis in Michigan — have come together to urge Michigan Representatives to pass the Drive SAFE bills (SB 0267, SB 0265, SB 0266, HB 4410, HB 4411, HB 4412) before summer recess. It is more risky to do nothing than to protect fellow Michiganders.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Kehillat Etz Chayim, Executive Director of JCRC/AJC Metro Detroit
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Cong. for Humanistic Judaism of Metro Detroit
Rabbi Alicia Harris, Congregation Shir Tikvah, Troy MI
Rabbi David Polsky
Rabbi Alana Alpert, Congregation T'Chiyah, Ferndale MI
Rabbi Nate DeGroot, The Shalom Center
Rabbi Simone Schicker, Temple B'nai Israel, Kalamazoo, MI
Rabbi David Fain
Rabbi Tamara Kolton Ph.D.
Rabbi Ariana Silverman, Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, Detroit, MI
Rabbi Aura Ahuvia
Rabbi Jeffrey Ableser, Temple Beth El, Flint MI
Rabbi Joe Klein, Temple Emanu-El (Oak Pak, MI), Rabbi Emeritus
Rabbi David A. Nelson, Temple B'nai Shalom Benton Harbor, MI
Rabbi David JB Krishef, Grand Rapids, MI
Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh, The Well
Rabbi Matthew J. Zerwekh, Temple Emanu-El, Oak Park, MI
Rabbi Dorit Edut, Temple Beth Israel, Bay City, MI
Rabbi Michael Schadick, Temple Emanuel, Grand Rapids, MI
Rabbi Steven Rubenstein, Congregation Beth Ahm
Rabbi Lisa Stella
Rabbi Ari Witkin
Rabbi Nadav Caine, Beth Israel Congregation, Ann Arbor
Rabbi Steven Rubenstein, Congregation Beth Ahm
Rabbi Marla Hornsten, Temple Israel
Rabbi Megan Brudney, Temple Beth El, Bloomfield Hills, MI
Rabbi Josh Whinston