ACLU of Rhode Island Sues DMV Over Driver's License Procedures For Immigrants

May 23, 2005 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The ACLU of Rhode Island today filed a lawsuit against the Division of Motor Vehicles, charging the agency with a complete failure to comply with an important state law designed to ensure open and responsive government. The Administrative Procedures Act requires state agencies to provide advance public notice and seek public comment before they adopt rules and regulations governing their activities.

“The DMV’s failure to comply with the APA has consequences for all of us,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “It promotes arbitrary and discriminatory treatment, and essentially allows the Registry to change its policies and practices whenever and however it sees fit. That is no way for a state agency with so much contact with the public to operate.”

The lawsuit arises in the specific context of the DMV refusing to give driver’s licenses to people who cannot provide a Social Security Number, greatly affecting the ability of immigrants in the state — both legal and undocumented — to obtain a license.

Despite the Act’s public notice and comment requirements, the ACLU lawsuit, filed by volunteer attorney Thomas W. Lyons, says that the DMV has failed to adopt any regulations at all “respecting the eligibility of immigrants to obtain Rhode Island motor vehicle operators licenses, the documentation required to obtain a driver’s license, the procedures for denying a license or hearing appeals of such denials, policies governing the confiscation of documents submitted by applicants for driver’s licenses, and similar matters governing the application process for driver’s licenses.” As a result, license applicants are subject to arbitrary and capricious decision-making by DMV officials, and have no idea whether procedures are being properly followed.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the ACLU of Rhode Island and the community group Direct Action for Rights and Equality. DARE notes that half of its members are immigrants, and that many face difficulties at the DMV when they seek to obtain a license. Community groups have complained about the hardships many license applicants have faced since Governor Carcieri unilaterally decided two years ago to no longer provide drivers’ licenses to residents without a Social Security Number. The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the DMV to comply with the APA’s notice and public comment requirements.

The complaint is online at: /node/35003.

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