I have three things to say about this story concerning the difficulties that legal immigrants go through in Texas to get drivers license renewals thanks to a new policy put in place by the Department of Public Safety.
Three months after the policy took effect, critics are pointing to a growing list of cases involving legal immigrants who have been significantly delayed or outright rejected in their efforts to get or renew licenses, despite being authorized to live and work legally in the U.S.
"I have always maintained my legal status," [Pakistan native Adeel] Mehmood said. "It's not fair to people who want to live here and follow the law."
Under the policy change, only applicants who have documents showing they have permission to stay in the U.S. for at least six months are eligible for Texas driver's licenses.
But immigration attorneys are reporting that people who meet that criterion -- but are unable to produce documents required by the DPS to prove their legal status -- are still being turned away.
For example, Mehmood said he was rejected by the DPS after being told his letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granting him asylum wasn't specifically listed on DPS's list of acceptable forms.
Supporters of the new policy, including Gov. Rick Perry, said the state is safer because of the more stringent document checks, which are designed to stop illegal immigrants from getting licenses and to combat fraud and identity theft. The agency has issued more than 15,000 "visitor" licenses to immigrants statewide since October, said Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman.
Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS, said the policy change was not intended to deny legal immigrants the opportunity to drive.
"If there is a problem in the process, then it should and will be addressed," Polunsky said. "We have to look at all the facts before we make any changes, but certainly we want to be fair."
D. Jackson Chaney, an immigration attorney in Irving, said the DPS did not consult any immigration lawyers or experts when it put together the rule and left out several forms of legal status that allow immigrants to stay in the country beyond six months. The list includes refugees as well as some immigrants who were granted green cards before those documents had expiration dates.
"They're being denied licenses on ridiculous grounds, frankly, because DPS simply does not know immigration law," Chaney said. "It's really a mess."
Mathias Ricken, a doctoral candidate and computer science instructor at Rice University, made four trips to the DPS office in November and December to get his temporary driver's license approved.
Ricken, who is in the U.S. on a student visa from Germany, called ahead on Nov. 19 to find out what documents he needed, but each time he went to the office, he was asked for more. He eventually got approved for the license after presenting documents including: his Texas ID card, his German passport, three different immigration forms, a Social Security card, a certificate of enrollment, a tuition receipt and a signed and stamped letter from the director of Rice's Office of International Students and Scholars.
2. If you went down to a DPS office to renew your drivers license and were challenged by the clerk to prove your citizenship, could you do it? I guarantee that at some point, some born-in-the-USA person is going to have this happen to him or her, through some screwup or database error or whatever. Maybe when that happens, especially if said person lives in a suburb, there will be enough political cover for there to be a call for changes from elected officials.
3. Whatever Governor Perry may think, this is just security theater. It's not going to catch anyone truly nefarious - such a person will simply acquire a license through the black market. Frankly, looking at that list of papers Ricken toted with him to a DPS office, it seems to me a much more likely result of all this is a spike in thefts of these valuable pieces of paper. Needless to say, that will decrease public safety. But hey, it makes the kind of person who votes for Rick Perry feel more secure, and that's what really matters.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 11, 2009 to The great state of Texas