Bill pro­poses ‘nonci­t­i­zen’ Ge­or­gia li­censes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - KATH­LEEN FOODY

AT­LANTA — Ge­or­gia driver’s li­censes for res­i­dent aliens in the U.S. would be stamped with the word “nonci­t­i­zen” un­der leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced this year that’s be­ing watched closely by im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates.

State Rep. Alan Pow­ell, a Repub­li­can from north­ern Ge­or­gia, is spon­sor­ing a bill that is fac­ing op­po­si­tion from crit­ics who say it is un­nec­es­sary. En­act­ment would make Ge­or­gia one of the first — if not the first — state to use a “nonci­t­i­zen” la­bel on li­censes.

A bill in Ten­nessee would also use a sim­i­lar la­bel on li­censes is­sued to peo­ple with tem­po­rary per­mis­sion to be in the coun­try, but it faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture be­cause the state’s Repub­li­can gover­nor, Bill Haslam, has ex­pressed con­cerns about the mes­sage that it would send to for­eign-owned com­pa­nies in­vest­ing in the state. Ge­or­gia is also the home to a num­ber of for­eign com­pa­nies’ U.S. head­quar­ters, in­clud­ing Mercedes-Benz, Kia Mo­tors and Kub­ota.

Pow­ell re­cently told mem­bers of a sub­com­mit­tee con­sid­er­ing the bill that the state’s ex­ist­ing “lim­ited-term” la­bel on cer­tain li­censes is vague.

“If you are au­tho­rized to have a driver’s li­cense, then it needs to state that this is for driv­ing pur­poses only and it doesn’t sig­nify that you’re a cit­i­zen,” Pow­ell said. “I’m go­ing to stick to my be­liefs here be­cause I think it’s a pub­lic safety mat­ter.”

State law al­lows tem­po­rary li­censes for peo­ple with “de­ferred ac­tion sta­tus.” That in­cludes young peo­ple with tem­po­rary per­mis­sion to stay in the U.S. un­der a pro­gram known as the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, cre­ated un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. It also in­cludes oth­ers granted sim­i­lar sta­tus by fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties. How­ever, a per­son in the coun­try il­le­gally is not el­i­gi­ble for a Ge­or­gia driver’s li­cense.

Ab­dul Haikal, an Afghanistan na­tive who’s been liv­ing in At­lanta, has a Ge­or­gia driver’s li­cense in­clud­ing the phrase “lim­ited-term” in block type. Haikal, 29, ar­rived in the U.S. five years ago un­der a visa pro­gram for for­mer trans­la­tors or in­ter­preters who worked with the U.S. mil­i­tary in Iraq or Afghanistan. He works for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps mi­grants and refugees ad­just to life in the U.S. and find em­ploy­ment.

Haikal wor­ries that the term “nonci­t­i­zen” on a driver’s li­cense could hurt a res­i­dent alien’s job prospects and af­fect his daily in­ter­ac­tions with po­lice of­fi­cers, store clerks and oth­ers.

“A driver’s li­cense is the first doc­u­ment used at ev­ery place, even the gro­cery store,” Haikal said. “Peo­ple could take ad­van­tage and use it in a neg­a­tive way.”

State Rep. Mike Glan­ton, a sub­com­mit­tee mem­ber who heard the re­cent tes­ti­mony about Pow­ell’s bill, said he doesn’t be­lieve the change is needed to pre­vent nonci­t­i­zens from vot­ing or ob­tain­ing a li­cense to carry a con­cealed weapon. The state has ex­ist­ing checks in those sce­nar­ios to ver­ify cit­i­zen­ship, he said.

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