February 4, 2011 in City

Washington driver’s license proposal called racist, anti-immigrant

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – A legislative hearing over a proposal to make driver’s license applicants give the state a Social Security number and a verifiable residence was abruptly halted Thursday after some members of the audience called the plan racist and anti-immigrant.

Senate Transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, ended the hearing when several people in the audience tried to shout her down over the purpose of Senate Bill 5407.

The panel had listened to a full hour of testimony, with some witnesses saying the bill would make the state safer by preventing terrorists from obtaining licenses and others who said it would make the state less safe because undocumented immigrants would still drive, but without licenses or insurance.

Haugen insisted several times the bill wasn’t about immigration: “To work in this country, you have to have a Social Security Number. We’re just asking for a Social Security number.”

When she asked Department of Licensing staff to explain how the bill would work, they said applicants would be asked for the number, as they are now. If there’s any question about residence, licensing staff must “establish whether they are lawfully present” in the state.

“So it is about immigration,” a member of the audience said loudly.

“You want to target brown people and the working poor,” said another, even louder.

Haugen told legislative security to remove those two people, which prompted other people to join in that the bill was targeting immigrants. She banged the gavel and adjourned the committee without getting the full answer from licensing staff or hearing testimony on three other bills.

The panel will return to the issue later, she said.


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