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Judge Rejects Rules Restricting Immigrant ID and Driver's License Access: Debate Rages On

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on April 09, 2009 4:26 PM

A judge has put a stop to new Texas rules which would have prevented certain individuals with valid visas from getting driver's licenses or ID cards, the AP reports. The Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF) sued the Texas Department of Public Safety on behalf of five immigrants who had "permission to work in the country and a Lewisville landscaping business that employs seasonal foreign workers through a federal program." Plaintiffs claimed that, under the new rules, they would be unable to obtain licenses to drive to and from work because their visas were only valid for 10 months (the rules require 12 months).

Austin Judge Orlinda L. Naranjo found that the problem with the rules wasn't that they sought to prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining such forms of ID (which is actually encouraged by federal law), but instead that they kept legal residents from being able to do so. Specifically, the judge found that "the length of time a visa is valid for, or the amount of time left before a visa expires, has no correlation to the verification of an applicant's full name and place and date of birth or to an applicant's identity, competency or eligibility." Further, the Texas Legislature did not give the DPS the authority to essentially "create a new category of ineligible persons to receive a driver license." With that in mind, the judge enjoined the government from enforcing the rules

The ongoing debate over driver's licenses is often directed to whether illegal, undocumented aliens should be allowed to obtain such forms of ID. However, at this time, the AP noted, "Washington, Illinois, Maryland and New Mexico are the only four states that do not require proof of lawful U.S. residency to get a driver's license." Utah and Hawaii also have only partial restrictions on obtaining a license or ID for illegal immigrants. New Jersey is also currently considering the issue.

Proponents of the rules against undocumented aliens point to the need for security, as well as  to prevent various forms of fraud and abuse of government services. Some also argue that illegal immigration should not be encouraged by making it easier to obtain identification and driving privileges. Those opposed to the restrictions feel that allowing undocumented aliens to get licenses and IDs actually improves safety on the roads by getting more people to pass the requisite tests, and also improves law enforcement efforts by getting more people legitimately in the system.

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