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Georgia Wrongfully Denying Driver’s Licenses to Lawful U.S. Immigrants

In the 2015, the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) began denying licenses to many non-U.S. citizens who are in the United States with employment authorization, also known as a work permit.  DDS had previously granted driver's licenses to these same immigrants for decades. The change came as DDS secretly changed their interpretation of existing law and decided that some immigrants with work permits did not have the proper "immigration status," However, the Georgia legislature had already decided that the immigrants whose licenses DDS is denying do in fact have the proper immigration status for Georgia driver’s licenses.
 How is DDS acting against Georgia law?
The relevant Georgia law is found in O.C.G.A. § 40-5-21.1, “Temporary licenses, permits, or special identification cards; foreign licenses or identification cards as evidence of legal presence in the United States,” and specifically states that the following non-citizens may obtain a Georgia driver’s license:
(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, an applicant who presents in person valid documentary evidence of:

(1) Admission to the United States in a valid, unexpired nonimmigrant status;
(2) A pending or approved application for asylum in the United States;
(3) Admission into the United States in refugee status;
(4) An approved application for temporary protected status in the United States;
(5) Approved deferred action status;
(6) Other federal documentation verified by the United States Department of Homeland Security to be valid documentary evidence of lawful presence in the United States under federal immigration law; or
(7) Verification of lawful presence as provided by Code Section 40-5-21.2 may be issued a temporary license, permit, or special identification card.

Such temporary license, permit, or special identification card shall be valid only during the period of time of the applicant's authorized stay in the United States or five years, whichever occurs first. (emphasis added)

The statute clearly says that a non-citizen may have a license during his or her period of authorized stay. “Authorized stay” under the immigration laws is a term used when a non-citizen has not yet achieved a permanent immigration status in the United States, but the immigration authorities are aware of the non-citizen’s presence in the United States and consent to or authorize their presence.
Employment authorization documents, at a minimum, represent that the non-citizen has a period of authorized stay in the United States. Every employment authorization document, regardless of the category, denotes an authorized stay in the United States by immigration authorities. DDS declines to understand this and believes that a non-citizen’s presence can still be unauthorized when he or she has a work permit. This is not true. 
How Does Denying Licenses to Immigrants Hurt Georgia?
            A person’s immigration status is not rationally related to their ability to drive. Even if a non-citizen does not know how to drive, the driver’s test is designed to weed those people out. Non-citizens largely have come to the United States to work and want to be self-sufficient. Certainly all those with work permits are authorized to remain here and work for the period of time on their worm permit.  Many have U.S. citizen children who they need to support. In Georgia, not being able to drive is a huge impediment to the ability to work. If non-citizen parents can’t drive, they cannot get to work, his or her children could have to go on welfare, which, in turn, costs the state and its taxpayers. There is no benefit to the state in preventing its lawfully authorized residents from working and pushing their families towards welfare. 
What can you do if your license was denied but you are under a period of authorized stay?
You can send DDS a letter with your personal information and driver’s license information asking them to review the decision on your driver’s license denial. If DDS stands by its decision to deny your license, call an attorney and he or she can pursue the case further in state court.  We are pursuing several of these cases at this point for adjustment of status applicants, cancellation of removal applicants,  and individuals on orders of supervision.  


  1. As someone that knows firsthand what can happen if you go to DDS and try to renew your license with a valid work authorization card and a foreign passport. They will take your expired driver license away. They will then officially revoke, suspend and cancel your license. Then they will put you on NDR (National Driver Register) showing your suspension. Now, even if you were to move to a friendlier state, you will not be able to obtain a new license because you are in the Georgia database. DDS denied all my appeals and most attorneys tells me there are no avenue to pursue. So please, go to another state first with your license and transfer and bypass DDS here in Georgia before thy suspend it for immigration reason.


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