ATLANTA -- A Gwinnett County illegal immigrant's call to end a requirement for driver's licenses, saying it causes police to racially profile, was rejected by the state Supreme Court Monday.
The state's high court upheld the Gwinnett court ruling that the statute that prohibits driving without a valid license is valid. Justice David Nahmias said Mexican citizen Fernando Castillo-Solis incorrectly interpreted the statute and said the law does not include a "retroactive amnesty" provision allowing someone to avoid guilt by later obtaining a license.
The Castillo-Solis case dates back to a January 2010 police stop, where a Gwinnett officer learned through a computer check that the man's 2002 Chevrolet van's registration had been suspended. Castillo-Solis was also cited for driving without a license.
According to court records, Castillo-Solis is a Mexican national who had been living in Georgia illegally for 10 years.
He argued to the Supreme Court that the Georgia statute, along with the 287(g) program, implemented in Gwinnett and other counties to allow deportation proceedings when a person is arrested, "work in concert to create a discriminatory scheme to target undocumented immigrants for arrest and deportation from the U.S."
Castillo-Solis argued that the "safe harbor" provision in the law, which allows a person to produce a license in court if he or she wasn't carrying it at the time of a traffic stop, is discriminatory because his illegal status does not allow him to get a license. But the court pointed out the law does not allow someone to get out of a ticket if they obtain the license later, only if they were already licensed but did not have the license with them at the time of the stop.
"The safe harbor does not allow a person cited for driving without a valid Georgia driver's license to escape guilt by obtaining such a license after the fact and presenting it at trial," the opinion said.
"However, to the consternation of generations of American teenagers, there is no fundamental right to a driver's license," Monday opinion says. The safe-harbor provision "merely establishes a straightforward way for Georgia residents with valid Georgia drivers' licenses not in their immediate possession when stopped by the police" to defeat charges.
The court rejected the argument that the provision violates due process or equal protection, and said the state is not attempting to implement its own immigration policy.
"The Supreme Court of the United States has recently reiterated that federal immigration laws do not preempt all state laws relating to illegal immigrants and indeed that 'courts should assume that "the historic police powers of the States" are not superseded "unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.,"'" the order says.