Skip to main content

31 Days, 31 Ways: Driver's License Policy Becomes Law

DAY 12 of our month-long series on the effects of new state laws and budget cuts: applicants for driver's licenses and IDs must furnish proof of legal status.

Lead image for this article

31 Days 31 Ways

Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune is featuring 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here

Day 12: A controversial rule enacted in 2008 by the Department of Public Saftey mandating that applicants for driver's licenses and IDs furnish proof of legal status becomes a state law.

It’s been a controversial rule since 2008, but come Sept. 1, it will finally be written into law: Texans who apply for a state ID or a driver’s license must prove they are in the country lawfully.

The law failed to move through the Legislature as a stand-alone item but was amended onto a fiscal matters bill passed during the special session that ended in June.

So what does this mean for citizens and legal residents? For citizens who last renewed their licenses before 2008,  it means a birth certificate or passport should be taken to the Department of Public Safety the next time they renew a driver’s license or state ID. Frequent travelers may not face a significant inconvenience since they likely have U.S. passports on hand. Those who lack these documents, however, may need to find a copy of a birth certificate or apply for a new one.

The same rules apply to Texans who last renewed their IDs or licenses online. Department of Public Safety rules require applicants to renew in person at least once every 12 years.

For legal residents, both permanent and temporary, it means furnishing DPS officers and clerks with the appropriate government documents that reflect legal status. That’s not only necessary to obtain an original license or a renewal, but to allow DPS to set an expiration date. The amendment authorizes the department to determine expiration dates for immigrants’ IDs or licenses based on when an immigration document expires. If the immigration document does not have a specified expiration date, the department may issue an ID or license that expires every year.

After the rule was enacted in 2008, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued the state. The group alleged the DPS acted outside its authority because it enacted the rule without prior approval from the state Legislature. Because the department will have that authority next month, the merits of the suit will likely become moot. That didn’t stop a state district judge from agreeing with MALDEF, however. Last month state district judge Orlinda Naranjo ruled the DPS acted outside the scope of its authority.

So what happens now? MALDEF attorney Luis Figueroa said the ruling means that DPS cannot act outside of its authority in the future. That means DPS cannot make changes to current policy without legislative approval. The judge also ruled that an immigrant should not be required to furnish to the department more paperwork than what an immigration officer would require. Simply put, an immigrant student applying for a state-issued ID would only be required to furnish a valid student visa. The department is appealing last month’s decision, however, so applicants may still face some policy changes after next month.

And despite a legislative session where budget cuts dominated most of the headlines, lawmakers appropriated $64 million over the next biennium for temporary visitors stations, where department staff will be trained to identify and approve the several dozen immigration documents currently used to apply for driver's licenses and IDs.

 Web resources:

Texas Department of Public Safety's page on Lawful Presence Requirements.

**As part of The Texas Tribune's ongoing effort to explain the fallout from the 2011 regular and special sessions, we encourage you to engage with us and be part of our coverage. Respond to our stories below. Post a comment on our Facebook page. Send photos to our Tumblr site. We may come to you in the future to help us tell the story of how Texas is changing.

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Yes, I'll donate today

Explore related story topics

Demographics Immigration State government 82nd Legislative Session Department of Public Safety State agencies Texas Legislature