Georgia to Look at Giving Driver's Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

By Seth Lewis | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - A proposal to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants has hit a nerve in the Georgia legislature. In the days since state Rep. Mary H. Squires, a Democrat and member of the state's Hispanic advisory council, began touting the idea, critics have been queuing up with challenges.

"It's a joke to issue law-breakers a license," said Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative group that's investigating the proposed law's legal merit.

Squires' plan is nothing new. At least four other states - Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Utah - allow illegal immigrants to get licenses.

But her proposal has added significance, coming at a time when President Bush is considering amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, and just after Congress spent much of July arguing over whether Mexican trucks should be allowed on American highways.

Most conservatives in Georgia oppose the idea of giving illegal immigrants licenses, but Squires told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that leading Georgia GOP officials have given her idea "sort of a thumbs up."

Squires, who could not be reached for comment Friday, told the newspaper: "This is not about making someone a legitimate citizen. It's a public safety issue."

However, according to Kent, that safety will be compromised if the state loosens licensing standards.

He cites Centers for Disease Control statistics that indicate car accidents were the leading cause of death for Hispanics under 24 and the second leading cause of death for Hispanics between the ages of 25 and 44. Crash-related mortality rates are higher for Hispanics than for whites or African-Americans.

"These figures are shocking," Kent said. "It raised my eyebrows."

Republican State Rep. Ben Harbin said Squires' proposal would nullify the state's recent campaign for traffic safety, which has included curfews and added training for teenage drivers.

"Doing something like this, we're taking a huge step backwards," Harbin said.

Attorneys at the Southeastern Legal Foundation are investigating the laws in other states that allow licenses for illegal immigrants, believing that such statutes violate federal laws against illegal immigration, Kent said.