New Driver’s License Law ... Unintended Consequences?
July 1, 2011
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – A new law that ties citizenship and immigration status to issuance of a Texas driver's license could cause harmful unintended consequences, according to its critics. It requires the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to ask for proof of citizenship or legal status from anyone seeking new or renewed Texas driver's licenses.
After failing to make it through the Legislature on its own, the provision was inserted into SB 1, the school finance bill that passed both chambers this week. Supporters claim it is necessary for national security.
Luis Figueroa, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), says it does alleviate some of his organization's long-standing concerns, such as allowing certain temporary visa holders to obtain licenses. But he warns that immigration issues are too complex to leave to the DPS clerks who will be charged with enforcement.
"They're the judge and jury. There's no appeal process; there's no complaint process. There's no immigration attorney to be able determine whether someone is getting the appropriate license."
He says the law needs to be fixed to ensure that a qualified driver can't be denied a license because of non-typical immigration status. He also wants assurances that new databases won't be abused, and that the added difficulty in obtaining a license doesn't hamper anyone's access to services and benefits.
In addition, Figueroa predicts the new procedures will magnify the consequences of another newly-passed measure - a photo identification law that imposes some of the strictest voting requirements in the nation. A loss of driving privileges could amount to a simultaneous loss of voting privileges - further disenfranchising the state's most vulnerable citizens, he notes.
"People who don't have driver's licenses are often the most vulnerable. People who are poor. Students. The elderly. These are always the people we should be trying to ensure that their rights are protected, not taking their rights away."
He says even Texans who can easily produce their birth certificates or passports should be concerned about the law for their own safety - since he predicts it will lead to more unlicensed drivers on the road without liability insurance.