Bill proposes ‘noncitizen’ Georgia licenses
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.