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Worthington residents march in support of driver’s licenses for all

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Organizers Gladys Gutierrez (left) and Jessica Velasco explain the Freedom to Drive Act during Sunday's rally at St. Mary's School in Worthington. (Leah Ward/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - More than 100 Worthington residents gathered Sunday to march in support of the Freedom to Drive Act, a bill that would allow Minnesotans to apply for driver’s licenses without designating their immigration status.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives on April 5 and was presented to the Senate on April 8.

Sunday’s march began with a prayer by Jim Krapf, retired pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Worthington. He asked that God would help people remember the injunction to “love our neighbors and work for their interests.”

Marchers began at Walmart, passed by Worthington High School and ended at St. Mary’s School. Although the chilly weather was less than ideal for an outdoor demonstration, co-organizer Gladys Gutierrez pointed out that Minnesota’s climate is one reason all people need to be able to drive legally and safely.

Along the way, Gutierrez led the procession in shouts that included “What do we want? Licenses! When do we want them? Now!”, “Whatever it takes!” and “Yes, we can!”

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Marchers encountered some opposition, as with a driver who sped past and squealed their brakes to express displeasure. However, many more onlookers were supportive. Several drivers honked and waved, and families along Humiston Avenue watched attentively from their bay windows.

Upon arriving at St. Mary’s, participants gathered inside to organize their next steps. Again, they began with a prayer, this time by Worthington resident Herminio Mazariegos.

“Prayer is necessary to move things along,” Mazariegos explained. “Prayer can change everything. We ask for God’s favor upon us for this effort.”

He related the Biblical story of Nehemiah, during which the Israelites needed to work together and stay focused despite opposition in order to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He said the situation immigrants face in Minnesota is similar, and the way to accomplish their goal is to be united and stay determined.

Co-organizer Jessica Velasco updated the group about the progress of the legislation in St. Paul.

She explained that the next step is for the Senate to vote in favor of the bill - the most difficult step in the process, she noted.

“That just means we need to fight harder,” she said. “You are the people who can fight this fight.”

District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, has never publicly supported driver’s licenses for all.

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“If our representatives don’t vote in favor of the driver’s license bill,” Velasco said, “then they need to get out.”

Each person in attendance then called Weber’s office and left a message asking him to support the bill. They also wrote letters to his office with the same request.

Mazariegos, who came from Guatemala to the United States 20 years ago as a teenager, explained why the Freedom to Drive Act is important to him.

“It’s a necessity,” he said.

He and his wife work hard to support their family, but without driver’s licenses, their opportunities are limited. He said the bill is good for the economy because it would expand employment opportunities. It would also make the roads safer, he added.

“I want to be involved in the community and serve in the community as much as I can,” he said.

Velasco said Tuesday that even if the bill does not pass, she still sees Sunday’s march as a victory.

The idea for the event was discussed just two weeks ago, when 10 community members gathered to plan their next action following the favorable House vote.

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“I loved that they took on new leadership roles,” Velasco said. The group divided up responsibilities of delivering flyers, making phone calls and approaching local church leaders to ask to speak and/or distribute flyers.

In just a week and a half, Worthington residents were able to garner support from people in St. Peter, Marshall, Mankato and even the Twin Cities area and Iowa.

Community members will meet again on May 9 to discuss further actions they can take to encourage Weber and other senators to support the Freedom to Drive Act.

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