A decision to stop granting Michigan identification to immigrants without permanent resident status could prevent international students at the University from getting state driver’s licenses.
Last week, Michigan’s Secretary of State made permanent legal status in the United States a requirement for anyone applying for state identification. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued a statement last month saying illegal or non-permanent immigrants shouldn’t be granted Michigan driver’s licenses because that would be inconsistent with federal law. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land followed the opinion by changing the policy.
The change was an effort to crack down on illegal immigration by making it harder for undocumented immigrants to live and work in the state. But the decision will also affect temporary immigrants living in the state legally for work or educational purposes.
In the past, Michigan law followed former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley’s 1995 opinion that no one should be refused a driver’s license based on legal citizen status. Before last week, Michigan was one of eight states in America that didn’t require proof of legal residence to apply for state identification.
Rackham student Hsien-Chang Lin, a committee member of the Michigan Taiwanese Association, said international students often use a Michigan driver’s license as a means of identification rather than a passport. A driver’s license is often asked for as identification while using credit cards or to verify age when entering bars, Lin said.
“It is not possible to bring a passport every day, because it is too important,” Lin said. “The policy change should consider more than just the driving issue.”
International students who had state identification before the policy was enacted are legally allowed to use that ID. International students who were in the process of applying for identification, though, will not be allowed to get a driver’s license or state ID.
John Greisberger, director of the University’s International Center, said most international students and faculty new to the University this term were unable to complete driver’s license applications before the changes were passed.
International students may soon gain more options.
Land, the secretary of state, is pursuing changes that would allow non-permanent citizens to obtain state identification that would be valid until their last day of school or work.
“Under the attorney general’s opinion, those who are in the country legally but on temporary student or work visas are ineligible for a Michigan license, though most still can drive using the license of their home country. We need to reconsider that aspect of the law to avoid unintended consequences for individuals or job providers,” Land said in a statement.
Also, two bills were proposed last month – one in the state Senate and another companion bill in the state House of Representatives – that would allow legal non-resident students and workers to obtain identification.
Greisberger said he hopes the two bills will fix the current situation by the end of February.
Rackham student Liang Zhang, president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said it would be inconvenient to bring a passport everywhere.
“If it were to get lost, it would take a very long time to recover,” Zhang said.
Zhang and his organization sent a letter to University President Mary Sue Coleman on Friday expressing their frustration with the new policy in hopes that she can help them.
Rackham student Sirarat Sarntivijai, president of the Thai Student Association, said the state should keep records of international people in Michigan so it can check that they’re legal when they apply for identification.
LSA junior Li Yu Tan, an international student, said the University already requires enough background checks on international students to satisfy the state.
“We go through many rounds of screening and applications, and we pay fees to come to this country to study,” Tan said. “We are not holding any threat. It’s unfair. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to have a driver’s license?”