Under the new requirements, which were approved by Texas’ Public Safety Commission and went into effect Oct. 1, foreign nationals are forced to provide documentation of their immigration status before getting a license and each time they renew.
The licenses and identification cards, which are now vertical instead of horizontal for immigrants, are stamped with the words “temporary visitor” and list the date the person’s legal residency expires.
Supporters say the new guidelines — which ban the Department of Public Safety from issuing or renewing licenses for any immigrant who is here illegally, or who has permission to stay in the country fewer than six months — are necessary to protect the country from terrorist acts. The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by hijackers who had valid driver’s licenses despite having expired visas.
“I strongly support the recent DPS rule changes that ensure public safety and national security, and am confident the vast majority of Texans feel the same way,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement. “…Those who criticize these new rules fail to acknowledge the realities of the world in which we live, where we must know who is in our state and nation, whether or not they mean us harm.”
But opponents say that the changes constitute “institutionalized racism” and that the “temporary visitor” language on the card could affect immigrants’ chances at renting housing or securing a loan.
And they say the Public Safety Commission overstepped its authority by passing something akin to immigration policy. Several lawmakers are planning their own legislation to try to counter the new guidelines.
DPS officials deny that the new rules have caused trouble. U.S. citizens don’t have to provide any additional evidence; birth certificates and other information already on file with the state is sufficient. Nor have online and mail-in renewals been disrupted for citizens.
And they say it’s certainly not a profiling tool. People who are living in the country illegally and try to get a driver’s license are simply being turned away – not arrested.
The rules are an effort to get Texas in compliance with the federal REAL ID act, which requires states to ensure driver’s licenses are issued only to people who are lawfully in the country by late 2009. Changing the appearance of the licenses is not a federal requirement, and U.S. homeland security officials say they have no records on how many states have done that.