Meet Jovita Morales; Leader of Minnesota Immigrant Movement. Our First Resilient Resister!
Jovita Morales remembers vividly the day she became an activist regarding Minnesota driver’s licenses. The day was when her two children were returning from a field trip organized by Waite House. Their school bus was on the 35W bridge when it collapsed August 1, 2007.
Morales’ children were injured in the accident, needed follow-up doctor appointments and required physical therapy to recover. Morales had little choice but to drive them to their appointments. This was a difficult decision as Morales didn’t have a driver’s license at the time. The state of Minnesota doesn’t issue driver’s licenses to undocumented Minnesotans. Twelve states and the District of Columbia do issue licenses to undocumented people.
Morales had experience working in her community regarding domestic violence and smoking cessation. Following the 35W bridge collapse she knew she wanted to change Minnesota state law regarding driver’s licenses.
“The way we (the immigrant community) share our issues, our efforts, our strengths, our witness, inspires me.” - Jovita Morales
Morales was a member of Latinas Creativas and they requested additional training to understand how Minnesota state and local governments work and how they could affect the laws. At the training the women asked the instructor to include information on how to take direct action. Several of the women had children injured in the 35W bridge collapse and the group decided to change Minnesota state law regarding driver’s licenses.
Morales and the women of Mujeres en liderazgo didn’t know how to start their quest for Minnesota driver’s licenses. Morales contacted her state representative, Karen Clark, who informed the group of the process. A house bill was introduced in 2010 and 2011 but didn’t make it out of committee and Morales realized that many legislators were unaware of the importance of driver’s licenses.
In 2012 Morales and the women reached out to other Latino/a leaders to expand the coalition as well as started working with someone from the city of Minneapolis. They started lobbying the Minnesota legislature and going on hunger strikes. A law allowing undocumented Minnesotans to apply for a driver’s license passed in the Senate in 2012 and 2013, but the House of Representatives didn’t pass the bill. Granting all Minnesotans driver’s licenses would ensure that every driver passed a driving test and could purchase auto insurance.
Rather than dwell on the lack of access to driver’s licenses, Morales is encouraged that the city of Minneapolis may soon be issuing municipal IDs. In 2009 Morales and members of Mesa Latina started lobbying for municipal IDs. If passed, Minneapolis residents over the age of 14 could request an ID. The IDs would provide a form of identification for the immigrant community, the homeless, the elderly, the youth and the transgender community. In addition, all Minneapolis residents could use the IDs as a library card, receive discounts on parking and other city services. Having an ID allows people to open a bank account, register their children for school and makes it easier to file a police report. The ID could not be used in place of a driver’s license and can’t be used to register to vote.
Now Morales is one of the leaders of the Minnesota Immigrant Movement (MIM) and they are focused on keeping pressure on the Minneapolis mayor and council to provide municipal IDs. Morales says she is inspired by her immigrant community, “The way we share our issues, our efforts, our strengths, our witness inspires me.” She is grateful that she is part of an organized community as when she feels despair, another member gives her hope and vice versa. Children also inspire her by writing letters to legislators and by going with their parents to the capitol or city hall.
Since 2007 Morales has been bringing her children with her to meetings, to the state capitol as they went where she went. At times, her children complained as they were bored or tired. Now that her children are in their 20’s they join in her efforts. They tell her that if it wasn’t for her, they would give up. Her children get frustrated when they don’t see quick results but are proud of their mom who keeps fighting for the future.
GET INVOLVED: to help Morales and others in this fight check out their talking points and reach out to your Minneapolis municipal leaders to let them know why the municipal ID issue is so important.
Resilient ReSisters are Minnesota women who are making a difference in their communities; large or small, loud or quiet. She is your neighbor, your child’s favorite teacher, your co-worker, your daughter. She is you! Each month we’ll showcase a new Resilient ReSister. If you know of someone we should feature please send us an email. We'd love to hear from you!