Saturday, January 10, 2009

Legal Resident - but no license?

Legal immigrants battle red tape
Renewing a driver's license can involve clearing lots of hurdles
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
Jan. 9, 2009, 10:38PM

Pakistan native Adeel Mehmood started building a life in Houston after the U.S. government granted him asylum more than two years ago.

He graduated from the University of Houston, settled into a home in Garden Oaks and saved money from his restaurant job to buy his dream car: a new Toyota Camry.

The 25-year-old still faithfully makes payments on the Camry — and on his insurance — even though the state of Texas in December denied his application to renew his driver's license, citing a new policy that took effect Oct. 1 requiring specific documentation to prove an applicant's legal immigration status.

Three months after the policy took effect, critics are pointing to a growing list of cases involving legal immigrants who have been significantly delayed or outright rejected in their efforts to get or renew licenses, despite being authorized to live and work legally in the U.S.

"I have always maintained my legal status," Mehmood said. "It's not fair to people who want to live here and follow the law."

Under the policy change, only applicants who have documents showing they have permission to stay in the U.S. for at least six months are eligible for Texas driver's licenses.

But immigration attorneys are reporting that people who meet that criterion — but are unable to produce documents required by the DPS to prove their legal status — are still being turned away.

For example, Mehmood said he was rejected by the DPS after being told his letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granting him asylum wasn't specifically listed on DPS's list of acceptable forms.

The Texas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association is pushing for revisions to the policy, adopted by the Texas Public Safety Commission in August, saying the list of acceptable DPS documents needs to be expanded to include several forms of legal status that allow for a six-month stay or longer in the U.S. They also are pushing the state to make allowances for delays in processing times sometimes caused by USCIS.

"This is going to end up impacting lots and lots of people," said John Nechman, a Houston immigration attorney. "Every day there seems to be another example."

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