By CHRIS YAGELO
Capital News Service
LANSING — A recently passed House bill calls for more restrictions on the issuing of driver’s licenses, but some critics believe the measure could lead to discrimination.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lauren Hager, R-Port Huron, would allow the Secretary of State’s office to revoke driver’s licenses currently held by undocumented aliens in Michigan and deny any applications for licenses by the same.
Rep. Belda Garza, D-Detroit, opposes the bill, contending that it gives the secretary of state too much power.
“I don’t think it is the role of the secretary of state to act as an immigration agent,” Garza said. “It will be very hard to determine who is here legally and illegally.”
Rep. Chris Kolb, D-Ann Arbor, agreed with Garza. “Secretary of state employees, no matter how dedicated, are not trained or equipped to handle the sorts of complex issues that are regulated by an entire federal government agency,” Kolb said during debate on the bill.
“The fact of the matter is secretary of state employees are not Immigration and Naturalization workers.”
Hager introduced the bill in response to reports that four of the 19 terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks had obtained licenses from Virginia, even though they were illegal aliens.
The bill is part of the terrorism package passing through the Legislature, said Wes Thorp, legislative aide for Hager.
Rep.Gloria Schermesser, D-Lincoln Park, said that she believes the bill is not actually a terrorism bill.
“If we are really interested in terrorism, we need to recognize that this is an immigration bill, not a terrorism bill,” Schermesser said on the House floor. “The presence of this bill in the anti-terrorism package underscores the need for passage of legislation to prohibit racial profiling.”
Denying licenses to illegal aliens would affect almost 100,000 Mexicans who live and work in Michigan illegally, mostly in the agriculture industry, according to testimony in Washington, D.C., by the Mexican consulate.
The illegal aliens, who usually work on farms in remote rural areas, need cars to transport their families.
“There are a lot of people who come here just temporarily with the seasons and they need a driver’s license,” Garza said.
Thorp believes that the bill will not affect the agriculture industry, however, as California, a much larger producer agriculturally, has stricter regulations but is still able to produce and harvest the crops at the same rate.
Because of that, the bill was amended to include a provision to require the secretary of state to “recognize a driver’s license from any state in the Republic of Mexico to the same degree as it recognizes driver’s licenses from any other foreign country.”
Opponents say that many illegal aliens find it hard to obtain a license from Mexico and rely on driver’s licenses from the United States, which also allows them to buy auto insurance and familiarizes them with U.S. traffic laws.
Thorp argues that the bill does not single out one minority group.
“(Rep. Hager) feels there isn’t one group that is singled out,” Thorp said. “It is aimed at people who are living here illegally.”
The bill, which passed 74-30 in the House, moved to the Senate, where it is being considered by the Transportation and Tourism Committee.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By CHRIS YAGELO