May 9, 2005 – With Congress moving to require all states to follow new, stricter guidelines on driver's licenses, some states could be looking at Tennessee's two-tiered system as a model.
Under current Tennessee law, non-citizen resident drivers and motorists who cannot prove their US citizenship may acquire a driving certificate rather than a license. The certificate is not recognized as valid identification for such things as air travel or traffic stops.
But the Tennessee system, instituted last July, is still creating confusion and frustration, and may be violating the rights of legal immigrants.
Nashville civil rights lawyer Jerry Gonzalez said the separate document amounts to discrimination on the basis of national origin, because it punishes lawful immigrants by failing to distinguish them from otherwise undocumented immigrants.
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) is protesting a measure that would require all written driver's license exams to be given in English. Non-English speakers - including naturalized US citizens - would only be allowed the driving certificate established for non-citizens. On its web site, the Coalition said the law discriminates against people based on the language they speak, in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The state Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 303 Wednesday.