Immigrants Protesting New Nevada Licenses

By  | 

Hispanic activists in Las Vegas are criticizing new state laws making it harder for people from some states to obtain a Nevada driver's license.

"Basically, they're saying, 'Let them do our dirty work, but let's not really treat them like human beings or Americans,'" said Thomas Rodriguez, author of books on the Mexican immigrant experience and manager of diversity and affirmative action at the Clark County School District.

But several legislators and proponents defend the new laws, saying they fulfill requirements of the federal Homeland Security Act and block undocumented immigrants from getting cutting corners on the citizenship process.

"There's nothing the state of Nevada can do about protecting the nation's borders," said Janine Hansen, president of the conservative Nevada Eagle Forum. "But we don't have to make it easier for illegals once they get here."

Hansen said driver's licenses provide "de facto citizenship."

At issue are two laws passed this year letting the Department of Motor Vehicles refuse a driver's license to people who arrive from states with less stringent standards for issuing licenses.

The laws go into effect in January, at the same time California is expected to implement a new law letting undocumented immigrants obtain driver's licenses.

Activists called the new Nevada laws discriminatory, noting that Nevada lawmakers approved the use of Mexican government-issued cards, known as matriculas, as identification for activities such as opening bank accounts.

Miguel Barrientos, president of the Mexican-American Political Association of Las Vegas, said undocumented immigrants drive with or without licenses. He said licensing would help keep track of people, while ensuring that those new to the state would get car insurance and learn rules of the road.

Assemblywoman Vonne Chowning, D-North Las Vegas, said stricter licensing laws are not anti-immigrant. She said the state simply wasn't ready to license illegal immigrants to drive.

"Approving use of the matricula was a big step for Nevada," she said.

Idalia Marquez, 25, immigrated to California from Mexico 13 years ago and has been in Nevada two months. Taking her driving test at a DMV office in North Las Vegas, she said states should honor other states' driver's licenses.

"Every state in the United States should be the same," she said. "It's one country and everyone should be treated equally."