Georgia settles driver’s license suit filed by immigrants

The Georgia Driver Services Department has stopped asking immigrants who have federal work permits and who are applying for green cards to submit proof of “legal admission” to the U.S. before they can get state driver’s licenses, according to a court settlement announced Monday.

Further, the state agency is no longer inquiring about their previous immigration status. Those changes have apparently sped up the approval process. Between May and June, the state issued 2,753 licenses to such immigrants, up from the 1,872 that were issued between January and May.

The state agency has also agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys $35,000 to cover costs and expenses arising from the suit. Those details were disclosed in a settlement that stems from a federal lawsuit six immigrants filed in April. Represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Atlanta immigration attorney Justin Chaney, they complained the state illegally discriminated against them by denying them driver’s licenses.

The state agency sought to dismiss the federal suit as moot, contending it was already starting to change its policies in response to two Fulton County Superior Court rulings touching on the same matter. Both those rulings were issued just days before the federal lawsuit was filed.

“We were in the process of changing the policy when the (federal) suit was filed,” said Bert Brantley, commissioner of the Driver Services Department. “Since they were in the same situation, we just applied the new policy to these people and settled the suit. There wasn’t any sense for the suit to go forward because we had addressed their underlying situation.”

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