Texas Passes Law Requiring Proof of Citizenship for Drivers License

Proof of Citizenship

In somewhat of a sneaky move, Texas Republicans under the sponsorship of Rep. Jim Pitts, (R-Waxahachie) slipped a new immigration law into a budget bill, almost guaranteeing its passage. The new law requires that anyone applying for or renewing a Texas driver’s license presents proof of citizenship or legal residency. The Texas Department of Public Safety, the agency that issues Texas driver’s licenses, is allowed to ask for proof of citizenship or legal residency but the new law will require it of them. For legal immigrants, the law will coordinate driver’s license expiration dates with visa expiration dates. The law’s sponsors and supporters claim it will help to combat terrorism and crime associated with illegal immigrants and prevent illegal immigrants from gaining legitimacy and integrating into mainstream American society.

There are many critics whose main themes seem to be that illegal immigrants will be forced underground where they will have to drive without licenses and will run the risk of being deported, many of whom were brought to the country as children and have no ties or knowledge of their supposed home countries. Furthermore, those driving who are unable to prove citizenship or legal residency will also not be able to get insurance, accruing costs that will be passed on to law-abiding Texans. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, (D-Austin) says it will force Department of Public Safety officials to racially profile applicants. Rep. Armando Walle, (D-Houston) opposed the law but, at the same time, proved Rodriguez’ point, saying, "Why do I have to be questioned about my citizenship? You know I'm an American. Would they question someone that's blonde haired and blue eyed?" Luis Figueroa, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said, "Tying immigration to driver's licenses is going to continue to be a disaster.” Figueroa is now bringing a suit against the Department of Public Safety for their policy, saying that there have been many mistakes involving those who were not born in a conventional hospital and those with legal residency not recognized by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Figueroa said, "We've gotten hundreds of complaints of people getting the wrong licenses, people having to keep coming back and bringing more documents and people getting denied licenses.”

Texas’ neighbor and fellow border state is also in the midst of a debate over driver’s license policy. New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez says that her state is a major attraction for illegal immigrants who can easily acquire a New Mexico driver’s license from and thus gain a legal form of U.S. identification. Immigrants can use a tax ID number instead of a social security number to get a New Mexico license and do not have to prove citizenship or legal residency. Since 2003, over 100,000 immigrants have received a New Mexico license. Gov. Martinez has said that 35 percent of driver’s license inquiries to the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division are from out-of-state phone numbers, implying that illegal immigrants travel from all over the country to get a New Mexico license. She is currently trying to change driver’s license requirements.