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Do aliens have the right to drive? 

Lawsuit urges state to license illegal immigrants

Georgia's illegal aliens have three options when it comes to driving: Pay up to $1,500 for a Georgia driver's license on the black market; head to a state such as North Carolina, where licensing illegal aliens is legal; or take their chances without a license.

A lawsuit filed Jan. 25 in Fulton County Superior Court is asking that the state Department of Public Safety start offering driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

Some would scoff at the notion that the state grant licenses to non-citizens. But the attorney who filed suit says these non-citizens have a constitutional right to drive, just as blacks had certain rights before they were recognized as U.S. citizens.

"The equal protection clause for both the U.S. and the Georgia constitutions interestingly uses the word 'person,' not 'citizen,'" says Athens-based attorney Chris Adams, whose clients are mostly Hispanic illegal aliens. "They specifically chose that language because blacks have historically been excluded from citizenship. It's really the same sort of issue here."

No federal law bars illegal aliens from becoming licensed drivers, according to Cecilia Munoz, with the National Council of La Raza, an Hispanic civil rights group in Washington D.C. But many states, such as Georgia, have adopted laws to keep illegal aliens from driving.

Those laws, Munoz says, are counter-productive.

"They don't accomplish anything in an immigration framework but they do create harm to the overall public," she says. "And often the people they hurt are not the immigrants themselves."

Licensing illegal aliens will enable them to purchase auto insurance, offering further protection to a car and driver they might crash into, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names an imaginary John Doe as plaintiff, for fear of retaliation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service against an actual illegal alien. Adams is seeking class-action status for the 50,000 illegal aliens he believes live in the state. He also wants the state to pay $5,000 to each illegal alien for "economic harm and humiliation."

Donna Locke, of the Georgia Coalition for Immigration Control and Reform, estimates that there are a half-million illegal aliens in Georgia -- 10 times Adams' guess. She and about 250 other coalition members want more stringent state restrictions on the rights of illegal aliens.

"Our government is opening up our borders and essentially has refused to enforce our federal immigration laws," says Locke, whose daughter suffered a head injury and totaled her Ford Escort after a collision with an illegal alien driver.

Locke says allowing illegal aliens to become licensed drivers would beckon more non-citizens to Georgia.

"It serves as a magnet for more illegal aliens," she says.

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