One state says no DLs for illegals, while another says state can't deny them

| 2/18/2005

The battle over whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to have driver’s licenses has become more confused.

Two state courts – one in Iowa, one in New York – issued seemingly contradictory decisions on the subject this week.

In Iowa Feb. 18, the state’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court, ruling that illegal immigrants are not entitled to obtain a driver’s license, according to court documents.

The state now requires anyone seeking a license to provide proof of his or her identity and a valid Social Security number – something an illegal immigrant would not have. A class-action suit contended that the state policy violated the constitution’s equal protection clause, but the high court disagreed.

“The practice of denying driver’s licenses to illegal aliens violates none of the statutory and constitutional provisions raised by the classes,” the justices wrote in their ruling.

But in New York, another court ruled that the state had to stop taking away licenses from illegal immigrants.

The case arose out of an effort that started in the Empire State nearly a year ago. In March 2004, Raymond P. Martinez, commissioner of the New York State Division of Motor Vehicles, announced that his agency would match up Social Security numbers used for driver’s licenses with information on file with the federal government. If the name and numbers do not match federal records, the person’s license could be revoked.

"Terrorists and common criminals alike have used these types of documents to conceal their identities, to blend into the rest of the population and to commit crimes against law-abiding citizens of our state and our country," Martinez said at that time. "Our front line staff are trained in identifying fraudulent documents and our fraud investigators are prepared to pursue these cases aggressively to ensure the integrity of the identification documents that we produce."

The New York Times reported recently that the effort had already resulted in 7,000 people losing their licenses, and eventually, 300,000 were expected to be revoked.

Judge Karen Smith of the Supreme Court in New York City ordered Feb. 17 that the state must stop. The judge is presiding over a suit by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund against Martinez and New York Gov. George Pataki.

The judge’s ruling, The Times reported, says Martinez’s agency cannot enforce immigration law – or make new rules without a public notice.

Judge Smith’s clerk refused to provide a copy of the judge’s order to Land Line, even after a member of the court’s public affairs staff indicated that it was public record.

A hearing on the New York suit is scheduled for April 7, 2005, a court official told Land Line.