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How Undocumented Farmworkers Helped Flip the Legislature

In a crowded living room at King’s Court Mobile Home Park in Traverse City, MI, Blanca and Julio gathered a group of their friends and family for dinner and a conversation about winning back drivers’ licenses. As more people slowly trickled in after their shifts at restaurants and the local cherry farms, they explained the history of how driver’s licenses were taken away in Michigan by a Republican-controlled legislature in 2008. The group was deeply unsettled to learn that the representative for their district, Republican Jack O’Malley, had outright opposed driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. As chair of the Transportation Committee in 2019, he had refused so much as to give the “Drive SAFE” bills a hearing. The frustration and indignation in the room was palpable, but so was the burning desire to remove him from office.

Over the next couple of months, Blanca and Julio would host a series of house meetings, community events, and voter registration drives alongside other rural, undocumented farmworkers. The urgency of restoring licenses—and anger at anti-immigrant policies—drove the organizing that helped Democrats take control of all three branches of state government.


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