Noncitizens suing state agency for Georgia driver’s licenses

Six immigrants who are applying for green cards in the U.S. filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Georgia’s Department of Driver Services, alleging the agency is illegally discriminating against them by denying them driver’s licenses.

The state agency’s policy, according to the lawsuit, denies licenses to noncitizens who cannot demonstrate they have continually lived in the U.S. with legal status, even if they are currently authorized by the federal government to stay and work in the U.S. as the plaintiffs are. Some of the plaintiffs previously had valid Georgia driver’s licenses, the lawsuit said, but were denied under Georgia’s policy — instituted in 2015 — when they attempted to renew them.

The plaintiffs – which include natives of Canada, India, Mexico and Somalia who now live in Atlanta, Calhoun, Forest Park, Kennesaw, Stone Mountain and Vinings – say that policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and is preempted by federal law. Saying the policy affects thousands of others, the plaintiffs are seeking class action status for their suit.

“I have a work permit, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the state of Georgia,” said Victor Escobedo, a plaintiff who was born in Mexico and now lives in Kennesaw. “I pay taxes and I am pursuing legal permanent residency, but I am suddenly not eligible to drive. I need to drive to get to work so I can support my family.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Atlanta immigration attorney Justin Chaney are assisting with the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Driver Services had no immediate comment.