Ted Tiffany, Virgil Wiebe and Mai Tong Yang.
(l-r): 3L Ted TIffany, Professor Virgil Wiebe and. 3L Mai Tong Yang

Law Professor Earns Award for Role in Driver’s License for All Bill

Professor Virgil Wiebe has been named a 2023 Attorney of the Year by Minnesota Lawyer for the contributions made by the law school’s Immigration Law Practice Group clinic, which he leads, for Minnesota’s new Driver’s License for All legislation. Wiebe is recognized among a group of immigration lawyers and professors who played a critical role in passing and implementing the new law. 

“I was grateful to be able to make a small contribution to the effort along with our students,” Wiebe said. 

The Driver’s License for All act eliminates the need to show proof of legal presence or citizenship in the U.S. to get a standard Minnesota class D driver’s license, instruction permit or standard identification (ID) card. It went into effect in Minnesota on Oct. 1, 2023. 

Attorneys Michele Garnett McKenzie of The Advocates of Human Rights; Michelle Rivero of the city of Minneapolis; Edmundo Lijo of the city of St. Paul; Susana De Leon of De Leon & Nestor; and Julia Decker, Marissa Hill-Dongre and Veena Iyer of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota worked to support the bill in a variety of ways throughout the legislative and implementation processes. Among other efforts, they drafted language for the bill, testified before the legislature and coordinated community outreach both before and after the bill was passed. 

The attorneys reached out to St. Thomas, Linus Chan at the University of Minnesota Law School and Ana Pottratz Accosta at Mitchell Hamline School of Law for research assistance. As a student practitioner in St. Thomas Law’s Immigration Law Practice Group, 3L Ted Tiffany conducted research on implementation of similar laws in other states.  

Wiebe, Tiffany and Samantha Arndt ’23 J.D., Olivia Liz-Fonts ’23 J.D. and 3L Mai Tong Yang also investigated the implications that changing the driver’s license requirements would have on Minnesota’s automatic voter registration process, which is linked to some Department of Public Safety interactions, like applying for a driver’s license. They analyzed the risk of noncitizens, who if the legislation passed would be eligible for driver’s licenses but ineligible to vote, becoming registered without their knowledge or consent and potentially becoming at risk of deportation. 

“The research allowed us to communicate with the bill authors about what language to include or not include in the final version of the bill,” Tiffany said. “It was a great opportunity to sharpen my state law research skills.” 

Tiffany’s research also resulted in a memo to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) division regarding its requirement that identifying documents must be professionally translated. He argued that current law allowed DVS to loosen its requirements and therefore lessen the financial burden for applicants. DVS took the suggestion and changed their form, allowing individuals to use bilingual friends and family to translate their documents rather than pay for translation services.  

“Working on the Driver’s License for All initiative has been one of the best opportunities I’ve had at law school,” Tiffany said. “I got to work with a large group of community-minded people that included state legislators, immigration lawyers and community activists. I plan on becoming an immigration lawyer after graduation, and I’m passionate about advocating for immigrants’ rights in the Twin Cities and beyond, so I was excited and honored to be a part of this team.” 

The Attorneys of the Year celebration will be held on Feb. 8, 2024. In addition to the Immigration Law Practice Group clinic, several St. Thomas Law alumni will be honored for their work over the past year. 

Diversity & Inclusion Category 

Infinity Project – Application Support Committee 

Julie Morrison ’19 LL.M., The Infinity Project 

Groups Category 

Cargill v. Syngenta 

Kate Hibbard ’06 J.D., Cargill, Inc. (currently Greene Espel) 

Aaron Knoll ’12 J.D., Greene Espel PLLP 

Nonprofit and Government Category 

Lusk v. Minnesota Department of Corrections 

Sharon Roberg-Perez ’05 J.D., Robins Kaplan LLP 

Puce v. City of Burnsville 

Andrew Wolf ’16 J.D., Iverson Reuvers 

Pro Bono Category 

Ricky Lee McDeid, Appellant (A21-0042), Shane P. Garry, Appellant (A21-0043), vs. Nancy Johnston, CEO/Director, Minnesota Sex Offender Program, et al., Respondents 

Andrew Pieper ’08 J.D., Stoel Rives LLP 

Roxanna Gonzalez ’15 J.D., Dorsey & Whitney LLP 

Teams of Two Category 

CellTrust v. ionLake, LLC 

Emily Niles ’14 J.D., Robins Kaplan LLP 

Crystal Sweet and David Sweet v. Vallerie Neary and Broking’s Transport of Grand Rapids, Inc. 

Nathaniel Dahl ’09 J.D. and Eric Palmer ’07 J.D., Meshbesher & Spence