By SHANNAN O’NEIL
Capital News Service
LANSING- A driver license bill recently passed by the Legislature has a provision that could impede legal immigrants from obtaining a license or state ID.
The bill, sent to the governor, makes some changes that are not controversial, such as allocating of the revenue from renewed driver licenses to Michigan’s Department of Transportation. That allows it to match the federal aid for roads provided to Michigan, said Ed Noyola, deputy director of the County Road Association of Michigan.
These changes and changes to the fines, regulations and eligibility related to commercial driver licenses and vehicles, make Noyola feel this bill is no big deal. He said his association understands the need for redistribution of funds and commercial changes. He offered no comment on the immigrant driver licenses and state IDs changes.
“I understand that there are aspects that need to be brought to compliance with federal law,” said Susan Im, chair of American Immigration Lawyers Association, Michigan chapter. “But what I feel like, the sneaky approach of trying to impose this harmful and controversial provision that affects immigrants in this commercial driver license bill. It’s just the wrong vehicle.”
The bill “looks harmless,” Im said, but she is disappointed that legislators didn’t see the greater harm.
There would be a wording change in the current statute from “shall” to “may,” that would change the way the Secretary of State would have to implement regulations on the approving of immigrant driver licenses or state IDs.
Immigrants with approved visa petitions or labor certifications would be ineligible to obtain driver licenses or state IDs, said Susan Reed, supervising attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which opposes the bill.
“It’s wrong to deny folks like that who are legally trying to go through the process for a driver license,” Im said. “We’re not showing sensitivity.”
The current system gives clarity to which documents prove eligibility to immigrants. The new bill does not give this clarity, Reed said.
“Noncitizens will continue to struggle in many cases,” Reed said.
Immigrants are job creators and should be wanted in Michigan, Im said.
Passing this bill, she added, may send a “hostile” message that could drive immigrants away.
Among other limitations, not having a driver license or state ID affects an immigrant’s ability to get around, take out a mortgage and obtain insurance, Im said.
“It’s pretty hard to get by on public transportation in this state,” Reed said.
These disadvantages do not make for an appealing lifestyle- it would run away immigrants and the businesses they bring, Im said.
In 2009, non-citizen immigrants accounted for 3.2 percent of Michigan’s population, according to the Migration Policy Institute Data Hub.
A key aspect to turning around Michigan’s economy is this group of people, Im said.
“If we want our economy to revitalize, to turn things around in Michigan, we need to send a welcoming message,” she added.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By SHANNAN O’NEIL