Opponents call new driver's license rules for foreign nationals 'institutionalized racism'
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Wed Dec 10 16:06:04 UTC 2008
Opponents call new driver's license rules for foreign nationals
01:42 PM CST on Tuesday, December 9, 2008
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News
eramshaw at dallasnews.com
AUSTIN – Opponents of strict new driver's license requirements for
foreign nationals are calling on state leaders to rescind the rules,
which will make immigrants' licenses and identification cards look
visibly different from those issued to U.S. citizens. Under the new
requirements, which were approved by Texas' Public Safety Commission
and went into effect Oct. 1, foreign nationals are forced to provide
documentation of their immigration status before getting a license and
each time they renew.
The licenses and identification cards, which are now vertical instead
of horizontal for immigrants, are stamped with the words "temporary
visitor" and list the date the person's legal residency expires. "We
ask them to assimilate, to be part of American society," said Rep.
Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. "Yet by having a different driver's
license … we're telling them they're not part of the same United
States that everybody else is."
Supporters say the new guidelines -- which ban the Department of
Public Safety from issuing or renewing licenses for any immigrant who
is here illegally, or who has permission to stay in the country fewer
than six months -- are necessary to protect the country from terrorist
acts. The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by hijackers who had valid
driver's licenses despite having expired visas.
"I strongly support the recent DPS rule changes that ensure public
safety and national security, and am confident the vast majority of
Texans feel the same way," Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.
"…Those who criticize these new rules fail to acknowledge the
realities of the world in which we live, where we must know who is in
our state and nation, whether or not they mean us harm."
Texas' new policy follows a Dallas Morning News report last year that
hundreds of foreign nationals had traveled to Dallas between 2003 and
2005 to obtain fraudulent Texas driver's licenses. The ringleader of
the scam took advantage of a loophole in the state's issuance policy
that allowed immigrants to get licenses with only a foreign passport
and a visa, even if the visa had expired.
But opponents say that the changes constitute "institutionalized
racism" and that the "temporary visitor" language on the card could
affect immigrants' chances at renting housing or securing a loan.
"It encourages people to treat them differently," said Luis Figueroa,
legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and
And they say the Public Safety Commission overstepped its authority by
passing something akin to immigration policy. Several lawmakers are
planning their own legislation to try to counter the new guidelines.
"It has already become evident that this rule has unintended,
arbitrary consequences and needs to be scrapped," said Rep. Ruth Jones
McClendon, D-San Antonio.
DPS officials deny that the new rules have caused trouble. U.S.
citizens don't have to provide any additional evidence; birth
certificates and other information already on file with the state is
sufficient. Nor have online and mail-in renewals been disrupted for
And they say it's certainly not a profiling tool. People who are
living in the country illegally and try to get a driver's license are
simply being turned away – not arrested.
The rules are an effort to get Texas in compliance with the federal
REAL ID act, which requires states to ensure driver's licenses are
issued only to people who are lawfully in the country by late 2009.
Changing the appearance of the licenses is not a federal requirement,
and U.S. homeland security officials say they have no records on how
many states have done that.
For Edwin Palacio, a native of the Philippines who came to the U.S. on
political asylum in the early 1990s, the new Texas rules have created
"confusion instead of clarity" and "suspicion instead of trust."
"I strove to build a new life here," said Mr. Palacio, who works as an
information systems auditor in Austin. "Imagine my shock, my dismay,
my fear, to find that these rules … designated me a mere temporary
visitor to the U.S."
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