Texas - Groups call new driver's license requirements institutionalized racism
Groups call new driver's license requirements institutionalized racism
Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
Posted: 12/09/2008 05:52:33 PM MST
EL PASO - Urging an end to driver's license requirements that are causing hardships for thousands of legal immigrants, lawmakers and civil rights groups in Austin on Tuesday called the policy institutionalized racism that could make Texas roads more dangerous.
"This is clearly an abuse of power," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth.
In October, the Texas Department of Public Safety stopped issuing driver's licenses to those whose legal status in the county expires in fewer than six months. The agency also began issuing licenses marked "TEMPORARY VISITOR" to non-citizen drivers.
DPS officials and Gov. Rick Perry say the policy is meant to ensure the integrity of Texas identification documents.
"I strongly support the recent DPS rule changes that ensure public safety and national security," Perry said in a written statement.
Under the new rules, license applicants are required to present immigration documents showing their immigration status if they cannot prove U.S. citizenship.
DPS officers, however, do not have the expertise to interpret complex federal immigration policy, said Paul Parsons, an attorney with the American Immigration Lawyer Association.
"Leave enforcement of immigration and nationality laws to the (Department of Homeland Security)," he said.
Critics said the new rules unfairly deny licenses to legal U.S. residents and increase the likelihood lawful immigrants will be discriminated against because their driver's license labels them
They also worry the rule will result in more unlicensed, uninsured drivers.
If DPS officials do not rescind the new rules, lawmakers vowed to strike them down.
"None of us is truly safe unless the liberties of all are protected," said state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.
State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, said the new rules were a political move directed by Perry.
"Why not use the money for effective tactical units and better intelligence to fight violent drug cartels?" Shapleigh asked.
DPS officials said more than 15,200 visitor designated licenses had been issued from Oct. 1 to Dec. 5.
Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Public Safety Commission, said the new rules were neither racially motivated nor an effort to crackdown on immigrants.
He said it was "extremely unlikely" those with visitor licenses would be discriminated against.
"It has everything do with national security," Polunsky said, "and it's unfortunate there are those who would attempt to reduce this to a racial issue."
Brandi Grissom can be reached at bgrissom@...; (512) 479-6606.
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