Texas Tribune by Julian Aguilar
The Texas Department of Public Safety’s classification of licenses for some legal residents as “limited term” documents is drawing criticism from some who claim the department is going against stated policy.
The documents in question are being issued to some after proving they are in the country legally when applying for driver’s licenses or state identification cards. The label “limited term” is at the top of the applicant’s license. The DPS states on its website that it issues such licenses upon “verification of temporary lawful presence in the U.S.” and that the licenses expire “when the period of lawful presence expires.”
But critics say that isn’t consistent with a policy stating that all licenses and ID cards should be in the same format.
In 2008, the DPS enacted a policy requiring proof of legal status before receiving state-issued licenses. It was challenged in courts after plaintiffs said the department acted without legislative authority. Part of the lawsuit argued that issuing a different license to noncitizens — a vertical document that read “temporary visitor” across the top in bold lettering — was discriminatory.
“We had stories about people that weren’t able to get credit, they weren’t able to get a bank account, weren’t able to or had problems registering for school, at the university,” said David Hinojosa, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In June, MALDEF successfully argued for an injunction against the DPS policy, alleging it acted outside its scope of authority.
That proof-of-legal-status requirement, however, was granted in 2011 when the policy was added as an amendment to a fiscal matters bill passed during the special session that ended in June. Even U.S. citizens who had not done so previously must prove their legal status when they renew their licenses.
The amendment stated, however, that licenses “must be in the same format, have the same appearance and orientation; and contain the same type of information.” Some interpreted that to mean that DPS would stop issuing a different license to noncitizens.
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Expiration dates have also been an issue. The amendment authorizes the DPS to determine expiration dates for noncitizens based on when an immigration document expires. If the immigration document does not have an expiration date, the department may issue an ID or license that expires annually.