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GoLocal Prov Op-Ed: Immigration, civil rights and the fight for driver’s licenses

This piece originally appeared on


Throughout history, the civil rights movement has fought against social, political, and economic injustice. With each generation progress has been made, from Seneca Falls to the steps of Lincoln Memorial.

Today we face a civil rights struggle of our own, as unjust laws have split apart undocumented families and youth, as demagogues have attempted to divide-and-conquer our great nation, pinning worker against worker, white against black and documented against undocumented. Much like the Jim Crow laws of the past, new unjust and discriminatory laws are being passed, with the explicit intent to tell those who differ by the pigment of their skin, the nation they are from, the language they speak or the God they pray to, that they are not welcome, that they cannot pursue the American Dream, that they are not even allowed to drive to work or their children to school — all because we deprive them the opportunity of Citizenship.

Legislators Cannot Be Indifferent

Legislators cannot respond to this grievous violation of human dignity with inaction and indifference. Legislators have a duty to ensure equal protection under the law, meaning that states must take the lead to prevent discrimination against undocumented immigrants. By providing access to driver’s licenses, higher education, and equal opportunity, States may then begin towards the path of ensuring equal protection.

In recent years, states have shown a concerted effort to discriminate and target undocumented immigrants. Legislation such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and Georgia’s SB 350 have institutionalized racial profiling against undocumented immigrants. In the case of SB 1070, the Supreme Court preempted three of four of its provisions in Arizona v. United States, ruling that: “…making criminals out of aliens engaged in unauthorized work—aliens who already face the possibility of employer exploitation because of their removable status—would be inconsistent with federal policy and objectives.”

In Georgia, SB 350 has targeted unlicensed drivers by criminalizing driving without a license — including punishments of up to five years in prison, leading to a significantly disproportionate number arrests of people of color. For instance, in Fayette County, Hispanics make up 6.9 percent of the population but 17 percent of arrests. In Roswell City, Latinos make up 13.1 percent of the population, but 63 percent of those arrested, whereas whites make up 75.4 percent, but only 8.4 percent of arrests. The same discriminatory trend also applied to African Americans in Fayette County and Houston County.  As the statistics show,  Georgia’s SB 350 specifically and disproportionately targeted people of color, making it an unjust law that codifies a violent discomfort of racial diversity and a desire to subjugate those who they see as less-than, so the economic exploitation of undocumented workers may continue.

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