State official: Georgia doesn't issue driver's licenses to unauthorized immigrants

The Georgia Department of Driver Services says it gives driver's licenses only to immigrants authorized to be in the United States. base

Credit: David Wickert

Credit: David Wickert

The Georgia Department of Driver Services says it gives driver's licenses only to immigrants authorized to be in the United States. base

A proposal to stamp "noncitizen" on the driver's licenses of Georgians who are not U.S. citizens has renewed a debate about whether the state issues licenses to unauthorized immigrants.

A 2013 law prohibits the state Department of Driver Services from issuing licenses to unauthorized immigrants, and the agency insists it does not. D.A. King of the Dustin Inman Society, a local advocate for enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, insists that it does. Last week King accused a DDS official of intentionally misleading state lawmakers.

So who’s right? It’s complicated, and it depends on your definition of “illegal.”

King points out – correctly – that the department issues licenses to some people who came to this country illegally. One example: people whose parents brought them here as children who were granted a deferral from deportation and work permits by the Obama administration. There also are other groups of people who have been granted deferrals from deportation.

King insists that makes them “illegal aliens” who get Georgia driver’s license.

“They are illegal aliens with permission to remain in the country,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “But they’re still illegal aliens.”

Michael Mitchell, legislative liaison for the Department of Driver Services, disagrees. Last week he told the House Motor Vehicles Committee the department does not give licenses to “illegals.”

King later wrote a blog post and column accusing Mitchell of lying to lawmakers. On Saturday Mitchell responded by emailing lawmakers a statement to defend the agency’s position that it does not issue licenses to unauthorized immigrants.

“Every person issued a Georgia driver’s license or ID card from DDS has provided documents showing proof that he or she is authorized to be in the United States,” the statement said.

Though the immigration documents used to vet each person vary, depending on the individual’s circumstances, the statement said “DDS has verified that each person is authorized to be present in the United States for the term specified by the United States government and listed on their immigration document.”

DDS noted the federal government – not the state – determines whether and how long a non-citizen is authorized to say in this country.

Another factor in how DDS handles non-citizen driver’s licenses: The courts.

"Recent court decisions have ordered DDS to issue licenses to non-citizens who present documentation that they are authorized to remain in the United States regardless of how they entered the United States," DDS said.

The bottom line: People who entered the United States illegally – but who have since been authorized by the federal government to remain here – can get a Georgia driver’s license.

Meanwhile, the House Motor Vehicles Committee has approved House Bill 136, which would require the new marking of non-citizen driver's licenses. You can learn more about the bill here.