Friday, February 18, 2005

The Iowa Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought by two illegal aliens against state officials who refused to issue them driver’s licenses, unanimously upholding a lower court ruling that said illegal aliens had no legal right to obtain a license.

Filed under the pseudonyms of Juan and Maria Sanchez, a Des Moines couple in their early 30s who have three school-age children and have lived in this country for five years, the suit asserted that the state’s refusal to issue the licenses violated rights guaranteed to illegal aliens under both the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

The suit, filed in November 2000, was a class action on behalf of all illegal and undocumented aliens in Iowa who wanted or had sought driver’s licenses.

Fourteen states ” Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and West Virginia ” permit the issuance of licenses to illegal aliens. A bill by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would prevent the federal government from accepting state-issued identifications, including driver’s licenses, if the state makes them available to illegal aliens.

Passed last week by the House, the bill ” known as the Clear ID Act ” is aimed at establishing security standards for driver’s licenses and identification documents to prevent terrorists from abusing asylum laws and to unify terrorism-related grounds for inadmissibility and removal.

Meanwhile, a judge in New York ordered that state on Thursday to stop seizing the driver’s licenses of immigrants without Social Security cards, saying the State Department of Motor Vehicles could not enforce immigration law or make new rules without notifying the public.

The order by Justice Karen Black of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan affects both legal and illegal aliens and came in response to a crackdown by the state that had targeted the licenses of 300,000 aliens in New York ” 7,000 of whom already have been suspended.

State officials had argued that taking away the licenses from those without proper identification was in the interest of homeland security.

In the Iowa suit, the State Department of Transportation had refused to issue licenses to illegal aliens, saying state law required license recipients to have a Social Security card or other proper immigration documents in order to obtain an operator’s permit.

The suit, which named Attorney General Tom Miller, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Kevin W. Techau and Department of Transportation Director Mark Wandro, argued that the state could waive the requirements and that its refusal to do so “does not further a legitimate state interest and violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the United States and Iowa constitutions.”

But Polk County District Judge Joel Novak in Des Moines ruled that the couple had no fundamental right to obtain driver’s licenses. In his ruling, Judge Novak said operating a motor vehicle was a privilege that was “not unrestrained.”

The Iowa Supreme Court, in upholding Judge Novak’s ruling, said the “practice of denying driver’s licenses to illegal aliens violates none of the statutory and constitutional provisions raised” in the lawsuit. The high court added that the state’s licensing scheme was “rationally related to the legitimate state interest of ‘not allowing its governmental machinery to be a facilitator for the concealment of illegal aliens.’”

The suit was filed after the couple, whose attorney, Curt Daniels, has refused to identify, received more than $1,000 in traffic tickets over a single weekend. Mr. Daniels said his clients had been targeted by police because they were illegal aliens, and the state should allow them to apply for licenses to drive.

Mr. Daniels and others in Iowa have argued that illegal aliens should have licenses as a matter of public safety, issued after they pass the same tests given to all motorists; that licenses would allow the aliens to buy car insurance and to find jobs, many of whom are employed in Iowa as laborers or agricultural workers.

The Des Moines couple has been identified only as a former Iowa school employee and a welder.

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