Georgia’s Republican-controlled Legislature is about to jump back into the hot-button debate over banning driver’s licenses for immigrants who have been granted a humanitarian reprieve from deportation.
Republican state Sen. Joshua McKoon of Columbus on Monday filed Senate Bill 6, which would block state licenses for people who have received work permits and deportation deferrals through the federal deferred action program.
McKoon described his legislation as a pre-emptive strike now that President Barack Obama is reportedly preparing to expand the deferred action program. Obama has pledged to act unilaterally by the end of this year now that immigration overhaul legislation remains stalled in Congress.
“The president seems poised to incredibly enlarge the population that we are talking about,” McKoon said. “I think that is going to change the tenor of the debate quite a bit.”
It is unclear how many people McKoon’s legislation would affect. But the government has granted deportation deferrals to 18,150 people in Georgia through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program since 2012. That program applies to people who were brought here as young children, who are attending school here and who have not been convicted of felonies. Georgia was home to 400,000 immigrants without legal status in 2012, according to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Similar legislation died on a bipartisan vote in the state Senate during this year’s legislation session. Critics said Senate Bill 404 would have punished children for the choices their parents made and blocked them from working and contributing to the state’s economy. Supporters spoke about upholding the nation’s legal immigration system. On Monday, McKoon cited road safety, “voter integrity” and security issues.
“There have been press reports in North Carolina that folks on deferred action have registered to vote – have attempted to vote,” he said. “We simply can’t have that in our state. We have to have elections that people can respect the integrity of.”
“You generally are not going to be granted admittance to a federal building without a driver’s license of some kind and that is a security measure,” he added. “And if you start talking about issuing these licenses to large populations that we know very little about — in terms of where is the person’s country of origin, what is their reason for being in the country — I think quite frankly we create some security challenges as well.”
Charles Kuck, a local immigration attorney who teaches immigration law at Emory University, said McKoon’s bill is unconstitutional because it would run afoul of the Equal Protection clause.
“At the end of the day, if Georgia wants to be known as an anti-immigration state, Josh McKoon should keep talking,” Kuck said.
McKoon also confirmed his bill would not provide exemptions for other groups of people who have received deferred action, including battered spouses, parents with seriously ill children and crime victims who are serving as witnesses in police investigations.
“Reportedly, certain victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes with deferred action status would be harmed by this bill,” said Azadeh N. Shahshahani, the director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia. “Immigrant women in Georgia need a driver’s license in order to navigate their lives with dignity and without dependence on others, including their abusers in the case of domestic violence survivors.”
McKoon’s bill also requires noncitizens — including refugees, asylees and others — applying for Georgia driver’s licenses to be fingerprinted or provide “other biological characteristics,” it substantially ups the fines for driving on a suspended or revoked license and empowers police to have cars impounded under those circumstances.