Texas DPS is Hell-Bent On Saving Its Illegal Rules For Immigrant Drivers Licenses

Earlier this summer we told you about how state lawmakers slyly tucked into the school-finance bill a new law requiring illegal immigrants to prove their legal status before receiving a driver's license. Although civil libertarians and certain pinko newspaper guys decried the legislation as unnecessary, it actually contained some protections for non-citizens.

Under the law, temporary visitors no longer can be given "special," vertical drivers licenses that identify their status. Other visitors, who previously couldn't get a license at all -- people with six months left on their visas or with visas shorter than a year -- will be able to under the law. And the Department of Public Safety will no longer be able to ask temporary visitors for paperwork beyond what others have to show -- reversing a bizarre practice of forcing immigrants to show the supporting documents they used to apply for their visas.

"Not only were they asking for the immigration documents, they were asking for the supporting documents," says Luis Figueroa, Legislative Staff Attorney for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "They were almost re-adjudicating someone's immigration status. They weren't even accepting a U.S. passport from someone born outside the United States."

That law takes effect in September. So when a judge recently struck down some old DPS rules that included these very same restrictions -- enacted in 2008 with support from Governor Rick Perry -- you might have expected that state would shrug and move on with its life, especially in the midst of a budget crisis.

You might have had the wrong impression about lawyers.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the California-based MALDEF, which argued that the rules unfairly targeted legal temporary visitors to the United States. After a hearing in Austin in May, District Judge Orlinda Naranjo ruled this week that DPS had no authority to enact the rules. Nothing in state law allowed denying licenses to certain visitors or requiring extra steps for others.

It was a victory for MALDEF, but a seemingly symbolic one, since the law that takes effect next month serves the same purpose. But rather than move on, DPS has appealed the ruling -- despite already spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the fight. That includes $150,000 for MALDEF's lawyers and $25,000 more if the state loses its appeal, which seems designed to avoid a legal precedence stopping DPS from simply enacting whatever rules it feels like enacting. (A DPS spokesman declined to comment.)

Throwing bad money after bad -- that's the phrase, isn't it?

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