Make your home page

ACLU squares off against Indiana BMV over drivers licenses for immigrants

ACLU fights BMV over immigrant drivers licenses

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The American Civil Liberties Union and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles squared off in court Friday in a fight over which immigrants are allowed to have a drivers license in the state.

Right now, only immigrants from Ukraine who are in America fleeing the war have the right to get a license. Arguments made in federal court will decide whether or not that right will be extended to people from other countries who have the same immigration status.

Jeffson Saint-Hilaire is from Haiti and is one of the people represented by the ACLU in their legal fight.

Saint-Hilaire came to America to escape the humanitarian crisis in his country.

He lives in Greenfield and has a job but he’s not allowed to get a drivers license, unlike immigrants from Ukraine fleeing the war who have the same immigration status as him.

“I don’t know why the state is doing what it’s done,” Gavin Rose, an attorney for the ACLU, said.

Rose is one of the attorney suing the state to change language in House Enrolled Act 1050.

The legislature passed the bill earlier this year allowing Ukrainian immigrants to get a drivers license and IDs.

Attorneys representing Saint-Hilaire argue that it specifically discriminates against people based on their country of origin.

“This statute discriminates on the basis of national origin. This is a matter where Ukrainian Individuals can get drivers licenses, but individuals from Haiti, from Venezuela, from Cuba, from Nicaragua cannot, despite having the same immigration status,” Nicholas Espiritu, deputy legal director at the National Immigration Law Center, said.

Cameras were not allowed in federal court for oral arguments Friday, but attorneys representing the state argued that HEA 1050 mirrors legislation passed by the federal government specifically aimed at helping only immigrants from Ukraine.

“That does not mean the state of Indiana is allowed to adopt federal standards for something that has absolutely nothing to do with the state of Indiana at all. Let alone the ability to drive. and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to use this to discriminate,’” said Rose.

I-Team 8 tried to speak with attorneys representing the state.

They told I-Team 8 that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles does not comment on open litigation.

In court, they said only 136 people from Ukraine have gotten licenses because of the law. They argued that changing it would give license rights to tens of thousands of people that the law did not intend to give license rights to.

“What benefit does the state gain from preventing people from driving?” I-Team 8 reporter Kody Fisher asked.

“None. None whatsoever,” Rose said.

Saint-Hilaire told I-Team 8 he just wants to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on other people for transportation and that driving is about being part of the community and right now he’s being excluded.

The judge overseeing this case said she will review all of the arguments and make a ruling as soon as she can.