Mike Cox did it again. Like his far-reaching interpretation of the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, in which he barred public institutions from offering benefits to domestic partners of state employees, last month the Michigan attorney general reversed a decision made in 1995 by Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley that allowed anyone to obtain a state ID like a driver’s license regardless of legal citizen status. It was supposed to be his way of protecting the homeland by buying into illegal immigration hysteria. But in his shortsighted xenophobia, Cox forgot about a whole group of legal immigrants who will be hurt by the new interpretation: international students.
Effective Jan. 22, 2008, only American citizens or permanent residents are allowed the “privilege” of obtaining a driver’s license or a state-issued ID. The law still allows people with drivers’ licenses from most other countries to drive in Michigan, but doesn’t allow them to get a state license. The decision came from Michigan’s Secretary of State last Monday, but was based on Cox’s opinion last month. Students at the University inexplicably found out about it the day it went into effect.
Along with banning illegal immigrants from receiving drivers’ licenses, the decision also bars non-permanent, legal residents like international students studying in America on student visas from receiving drivers’ licenses. They are unfortunately victims of America’s hysterical illegal immigration backlash.
For international students who arrive to the United States without a driver’s license from another country, as many do, the new law effectively keeps these students from driving. Even for international students who arrive with drivers’ licenses, many insurance companies will not sell insurance to someone without an American driver’s license. Further, driving rules vary significantly among countries and the present law discourages these drivers from taking lessons, putting other drivers at risk.
Because of the new requirements, the new law leaves few choices for international students besides public transportation. But good luck finding that in Michigan. There is no way for University students to travel reliably outside of Ann Arbor, even to Detroit, which is less than 45 minutes away.
An American driver’s license counts as more than just a pass to drive a car too – it is a basic form of identification. Taking licenses away from legal residents will force them to use their passports for many ordinary tasks, from buying cough syrup to finding a job. It’s neither convenient nor safe to carry a passport in order to go to the bar.
All of these barriers to the normal life of temporary residents supposedly comes with the benefit of added security. But international students are already put through a battery of security screenings and applications. If anything, preventing international students from getting state IDs is just abandoning one more round of checks.
What is even worse that the announcement was simply sprung on students the day it took effect. Although the University’s International Center claims to have known about the possibility of this change from the beginning of January, it made no effort to warn the students that something of this nature might happen. It should have saw it coming since last month, though. If warned sufficiently ahead of time, many students could have obtained state ID cards in that period. Now they are out of luck.
Luckily, bills are already in the state House and state Senate that would make exceptions for temporary residents. The University has an obligation to its students to make sure that this unjust requirement is reversed. Out of its own self-interest, the University should be looking ahead to the overseas recruitment problems it will have because of this new requirement.
Drivers’ licenses aren’t just nice to have. They are necessities.