The Driver Services Department of Georgia has stopped asking immigrants who have federal work permits and who have applied for permanent residence in the U.S. to submit their proof of legal admission, following the settlement of a lawsuit against the state.
A Federal Lawsuit over Driver’s Licenses
The Southern Poverty Law Center – headed by immigration attorney Justin Chaney – sued the State of Georgia in April on behalf of six immigrants who complained that the state illegally discriminated against them by denying them driver’s licenses.
The plaintiffs – who are natives of India, Canada, Mexico and Somalia – are all legally living and working in the U.S. and have pending applications for permanent residency. All of them also had obtained driver’s licenses before, but were barred from renewing this year based on a state policy by the department.
The policy denied licenses to immigrants who could not provide that their initial entry to the country was legal, or could not provide a history of continuous legal presence in the U.S.
The attorneys of Southern Poverty Law Center challenged the constitutionality of the state policy. Their argument stated that Georgia has “no authority to create immigration classifications that do not exist in federal law, nor to assess the legality of a non-citizen’s presence or status in the U.S.”
In the end, the state settled the suit and the Driver Services Department is no longer asking immigrants about their previous status. The department also agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys $35,000 to cover expenses that arose from the lawsuit.
“It was right for the state to finally end this discriminatory policy affecting so many Georgia immigrants,” Chaney stated. “In changing this practice, Georgia has affirmed that immigration enforcement is solely the business of the federal government.”
Improved Driver’s License Approval Process for Immigrants
All six plaintiffs who presently live in Atlanta, Calhoun, Forest Park, Kennesaw, Stone Mountain and Vinings have received their driver’s licenses.
Plaintiff Jorge Rosillo Zaragoza – a Mexican immigrant and construction worker who has applied for permanent residency – said, “I’m relieved that Georgia has ended a policy that caused so much needless hardship for immigrants with permission to live and work in this country.”
“We no longer have to worry about how we will get to work and meet other obligations. We can be productive members of the community,” he added.
Response of the State Department
The Driver Services Department initially sought to dismiss the suit as moot, stating that it was already changing its policies in response to two Fulton County Superior Court rulings that touch on the same matter.
“We were in the process of changing the policy when the suit was filed,” said Bert Brantley, commissioner of the department. “Since they were in the same situation, we just applied the new policy to these people and settled the suit. There wasn’t any sense for the suit to go forward because we had addressed their underlying situation.”
The changes to this policy affect all immigrants who drive their cars to work on a regular basis. If you want to learn more about how these changes affect you, contact Lyttle Law Firm at 512-215-5225 or visit our website for more information.