Thursday 27 December 2007
Lansing, Mich. - Illegal immigrants are ineligible for driver's licenses, Michigan's attorney general said Thursday in an opinion that affects one of the few states that have been granting licenses to undocumented residents.
Attorney General Mike Cox's opinion is legally binding on state agencies and officers unless reversed by the courts. It was not immediately known how soon any changes would take place or what the opinion means for illegal immigrants with currently valid licenses.
Michigan law prohibits the secretary of state from issuing a driver's license to a nonresident. Cox, a Republican, said it would be inconsistent with federal law to regard an illegal immigrant as a permanent resident in Michigan.
The opinion supersedes a 1995 opinion by former Democratic Attorney General Frank Kelley.
Kelley suggested that denying a driver's license to an illegal immigrant might violate the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause, according to Cox. But Cox said "there can be no doubt that a rational basis exists for denying driver's licenses to illegal aliens."
Cox cited national security concerns, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan contends his opinion could actually make the state less secure.
"It drives them further underground," executive director Kary Moss said of illegal immigrants. "If they have licenses, then the state knows about them and has information about them. If there's no form of state recognition, it's essentially a much more invisible population."
Whether illegal immigrants should get licenses has become a major political issue. Earlier this year, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, but he ended up withdrawing that plan after intense opposition.
Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington currently do not require drivers to prove legal status in order to obtain a license.
Michigan's motor vehicle department is overseen by GOP Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. Her office was still wading through Cox's opinion and exploring its immediate implications, spokesman Ken Silfven said, but he added that it appeared to "dovetail nicely" with legislation Land is proposing to create a new driver's license and state ID card.
Land is attempting to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which requires all states to bring their driver's licenses under a national standard and to link their record-keeping systems.
The federal law's supporters say it is needed to prevent terrorists and illegal immigrants from getting fake identification cards. Critics say it is too intrusive, too costly and likely to be abused by identity thieves.
On the Net:
Attorney general's opinion: http://www.ag.state.mi.us/opinion/datafiles/2000s/op10286.htm