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Are “Special” Drivers’ Licenses the Future for Legal Immigrants?

Several immigrant rights advocacy groups have raised concerns over a number of state bills recently introduced in Michigan, which require drivers’ licenses for legal immigrants to bear distinguishing visual markers and the expiration date of their legal status, claiming that such a measure will lead to racial profiling and discrimination.

Two Michigan House bills were proposed last month by Pamela Hornberger(R-Chesterfield Township) and Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), mandating to have driver’s licenses and state identification cards of noncitizens clearly indicate when the license holder’s legal status is set to expire. Both bills will be discussed in a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing set on Tuesday.

According to Michigan Rep. Triston Cole (R-Mancelona), chair of the committee considering the legislation, the two bills are likely to “not have a great deal of resistance in the committee,”and will “come out fairly quickly once we can get the hearing process over.”

Cole supports the proposed bills, reasoning that they would prevent undocumented immigrants from keeping driver’s licenses long after their legal status expires.Immigrants and immigrant rights groups, however, fear that the bills, aside from leading to racial profiling, could set a precedent in a time of increased federal immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.

Anna Hill, a Michigan Immigration Rights Center attorney, wrote a letter to Rep. Cole arguing that current procedures set by the Secretary of State already ensure that a noncitizen’s driver’s license cannot be valid beyond a cardholder’s legal immigration status, arguing that the proposed bills are redundant in that vein.

Hill claims that the bills inevitably lead to profiling of legal immigrants, writing that “any designation that an individual is a noncitizen or reference to a person’s legal presence is bound to lead to discrimination, raise the potential for racial profiling, and harm public safety.”

Moreover, she believes that marking identification cards indicate “second-class status that could lead landlords, banks, and other businesses, as well as a wide range of public services providers, to treat noncitizen residents differently.” Lastly, she pointed out that marked drivers’ licenses would sow confusion among local law enforcement, who may assume that these licenses signify a person’s lack of immigration status, or question their identify, leading to arrests and perhaps even deportation in some cases.

This pair of bills coincides with the efforts of several states across the country seeking measures to toughen immigration laws. In Texas, for example, partial implementation of Senate Bill 4 permits all local law enforcement officers, including campus police and sheriffs, to inquire on the status of people they detain or arrest. Texas SB4 and similar immigration enforcement measures are precursory to more serious forms of profiling, a legislative trend in the Trump era.

For further updates on SB4 and other immigration policies, be sure to follow this blog. If you or anyone you know has been a victim of questionable detention because of your immigration status, talk to the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices to speak with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.

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