CONCORD, N.H. -- As one restriction on noncitizen drivers licensing is lifted, some lawmakers want to place another on the licenses.
New Hampshire's Division of Motor Vehicles recently scrapped a rule requiring noncitizens to renew their licenses in Concord, in response to complaints from immigrants and advocate groups.
Now some lawmakers want noncitizens to be identified on their drivers licenses, saying the difference would help prevent terrorism and voter fraud.
"The world is not as safe as it was when me and a lot of you were children," Rep. Laurie Boyce, R-Alton, the bill's main sponsor, told the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
A citizen's right to vote must be protected from noncitizens who may slip by voting officials, said Sen. Robert Boyce, R-Alton, Rep. Boyce's husband and a cosponsor of bill.
"If that right is being diluted by people who are not citizens being able to vote, that's wrong," he said. Boyce added that noting a person's citizenship on a license could help elections officials in other ways. "They don't have to then feel like they're being bigoted by asking the person about their citizenship because they have a foreign sounding accent," he said. "For instance Puerto Rican - they are citizens."
Noncitizen voter fraud is not a widespread problem, according to the attorney general's office. "We've never had a complaint or a case in which a noncitizen has voted and it's been brought to our office for investigation," said Anne Edwards, an associate attorney general in the civil division. "It's just not an issue that we hear a lot of questions about."
Opponents testified that the bill is unconstitutional and would open the door to increased discrimination against immigrants. It's not necessary to identify noncitizens on their licenses, they said, because the DMV already keeps internal citizenship records. Further, they pointed out voter fraud can be prevented by requiring potential voters to present proof of citizenship before they are permitted to vote.
"The state cannot ... bless discrimination on the basis of race, it can't bless discrimination on the basis of religion and it can't bless discrimination on the basis of where you come from," said Stephanie Bray, a lawyer who works with New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
Regulating immigration is a federal, not state responsibility, she added. "For the state to deputize itself to take on that job I think is a completely unnecessary and unfunded mandate."
But supporting lawmakers pressed that marking noncitizen licenses is needed "so that we make the distinction between those who are permanently part of our political fabric and those who are here on a temporary basis," said Rep. Daniel Itse, R-Fremont. The federal government considers refugees and those with immigrant status to be permanent residents. In New Hampshire, nonresident aliens have their permit expiration dates printed on their licenses.
Rep. Hector Velez, D-Manchester, who, like other Puerto Ricans was required to travel to Concord to get his license until the DMV changed its rule in September, questioned the bill's intent.
"Who does it serve?" he said. "If they're providing the paperwork that they need to provide, if they're going through that process, why do we need to put a color code, a number?"