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License, Registration—And Immigration Status? Proposed GA Bill on “Noncitizens” Causes Uproar

By: Bridget ClerkinMarch 16, 2017
Legal non-citizens in Georgia may see distinguishing language on their driver's licenses.
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What’s in a word? Does it have the power to change the way one is viewed by others? Their place in society? Can it change the course of a life?

That’s what some argue could be the fallout of a bill circulating in Georgia’s state legislature, which proposes that all non-U.S. citizens in the state hold a license branded with the phrase “ineligible voter.”

If it should pass, the measure could touch hundreds of thousands of Peach State residents. Last year alone, Georgia issued 229,932 licenses or ID cards to legal non-citizens. The state does not issue licenses or identification cards to anyone in the country illegally.

Proponents of the legislation, including the bill’s author, Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell), say that the move is necessary because, as Powell explained when bringing the measure to a subcommittee vote, “The driver’s license is the standard first form of ID.”

“[It’s] just clearly a way of stating the fact that someone is not eligible to vote, or that driver's license can't be used for some other purpose other than for driving privileges,” Powell went on, according to reports by CNN.

He did not mention concerns over voter fraud—a cause that has been touted by many other bill supporters. Georgia investigated 25 cases of voter fraud following last November’s election, out of more than 4.1 million votes cast in the state.

The “ineligible voter” phrase is Powell’s second crack at defining the subgroup of Georgia residents. The first version of the bill he sponsored called for the designation “noncitizen,” but he quickly backpedaled after receiving a wave of phone calls and e-mails from concerned residents, worried that the phrase could mark them as targets for anyone checking their identification—especially the police.

Many worry the phrase “ineligible voter” would be confusing at best or suggestive at worst, leaving open the possibility that others would interpret the designation to mean the ID holder is not here legally, said Georgia green card holder Maria Palacios.

“When I pick up my children from daycare, I have to show them my ID,” she told CNN reporters. “They might assume that I’m an undocumented immigrant and treat me differently.”

Georgia already prints “limited term” on licenses for legal residents—the same group who would be affected by the new language. The phrase indicates that the license belongs to someone who was granted temporary lawful status in the United States.

If the “ineligible voter” initiative passes, it will likely be the first time such a message was also added to a state license, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although similar measures, such as vertical-facing IDs for non-citizens, have been proposed in the past.

Powell said the term was in fact the suggestion of a Georgia green card holder—one of the many who called in after his original “noncitizen” bill.

While the caller assured him that some sort of designation would be helpful, he suggested using one more tailored to the ID holder’s voter status, Powell told CNN.

"His suggestion to me was instead of using the term 'noncitizen,' to use the term 'noneligible voter' or 'ineligible voter.’ That that would seem more acceptable to a lot of folks," Powell told CNN. “A driver's license is the first form of an ID that people have, and obviously I just didn't take into account for political correctness.”

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