Tennessee bill could require 'alien' to appear on IDs for non-citizens

NASHVILLE - A Republican lawmaker introduced a bill Tuesday that would require the state Department of Safety to put "alien" or "non-U.S. citizen" on any Tennessee drivers licenses, permits or other forms of identification for anyone who does not have permanent status to live in the country.

Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, wants to require the addition of the language to anyone who is not a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States. He also wants to add the words "non-U.S. citizen" or "alien" to be prominently displayed on the various types of identification.

Non-permanent residents are able to get a temporary drivers license in Tennessee, so long as they provide proper paperwork and pass a driving test.

In addition to the new label on the ID, Ragan's bill would allow the individual to have the same driving privileges. Any license, permit or identification obtained by a non-permanent resident would also expire when the person's work visa or temporary authorization expires, according to the legislation.

Temporary drivers licenses in Tennessee currently expire upon the end date of the person's visa, according to Wesley Moster, a spokesman for the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Ragan cited terror attacks in the United States as a rationale for his legislation.

"The 19 hijackers from 9/11 were here on overstayed visas, so this is just intended to be another way of ensuring that we catch that if we can," he said.

Ragan called his legislation an extra step in terms of safety.

"You never put just one barrier out there to stop an enemy, you put as many as you can," he said. "This is just an additional check out there. It's not intended to be anything onerous but it is intended to be a little more obvious."

As it stands right now, it is "easy" to tell the difference between a temporary drivers licenses and a regular drivers license, Moster said. The two IDs have different appearances.

In terms of the terminology of including "alien" or "non-U.S. citizen" in the bill, the Republican said he wanted to provide latitude to department officials to decide what might fit on the drivers license.

Ragan said he didn't see any controversy behind the use of the word "alien" or "illegal alien."

"That means a stranger who is in our country in violation of the law," he said. "The sensitivities and micro-aggressions and all the other stuff that goes on around here mystify me."

The effort by Ragan comes amid a national debate over President Donald Trump's controversial executive orders on immigration and travel that have generated consternation and protests across the nation.

In Tennessee, advocacy organizations have previously pointed to several bills and laws in recent years as evidence that lawmakers are unfairly targeting immigrants and refugees.

"This bill might please those who prefer mean-spirited rhetoric over actual policy making, but it would waste money and show the international community that Tennessee isn't ready to be a global market," said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

Teatro pointed out that people in Tennessee who are not permanent residents or have yet to receive a green card are already given a separate license.

Those seeking a temporary drivers license can receive one from the state so long as they have received authorization from the federal government, according to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. To receive such authorization, an applicant must indicate their length of stay in the country in addition to proving their temporary legal status.

"Hopefully the state won't spend taxpayer money to jeopardize foreign investment by forcing executives from Nissan and Volkswagen to carry a card branding them as 'aliens,'" Teatro said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there was no Senate sponsor of Ragan's measure.

Reach Joel Ebert at jebert@tennessean.com or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.

Tennessean


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