Limiting Drivers’ Licenses for Refugees

By Dave Donaldson

Anchorage Republican Bob Lynn opened hearings today to rekindle his interest in limiting immigrants’  rights to an Alaska drivers’ license.   His attempts to usher through a similar, but more complex, bill last year failed twice on the House floor.

Lynn, chairman of the House State Affairs committee, said under current law a person who is not a citizen of the United States – but legally present with a U-S Visa – can get a five year drivers’ license, even if the Visa would expire the following day.

I hope you agree that’s not a very good situation.  HB3 is simple.  It merely permits the DMV to issue a drivers’ license for less than five years to match a person’s legal presence document such as a Visa.  In other words, if someone’s Visa expires in six months, so too would the drivers’ license. And I think that’s just plain common sense.

A staff member for Lynn said the Department of Homeland Security determines the length of stay for a non-citizen – saying the state should not offer legal documentation that outlasts the federal status.

Opponents to the bill use a similar point as Lynn,  saying the federal government is very protective of its job of keeping up with immigrants.  Alaska’s director of the American Civil Liberties Union – Jeff Mittman,  also said the bill is likely unconstitutional under federal and state precedent.

It’s that we’re creating a dual class of drivers’ license, not based on state concerns of “Are you a safe driver?” but based on your federal immigration status.

Homer Republican Paul Seaton objected to a provision in the bill that would further set apart immigrants whose legal expiration date is described as “indefinite.”    He said that generally refers to refugees who have been admitted to the U-S for political asylum.   They could get a license for no longer than a year – although they would have to pay the same as an Alaskan getting a five year license.

I think these are probably people that we’ve let into our state – and into the country under Homeland Security – that we’re actually burdening in time and finance for …  and I don’t understand the reason why we would want to do that.

Lynn originally said he wanted to move the bill on to the Finance committee after the single hearing,  but after committee members pointed out that the legal issues will not be considered by the Judiciary committee he agreed to hold it until next week to get the opinion of the Attorney General.

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