Posted: Sep 3, 2013 10:27 PM by Erin Steuber
Updated: Sep 3, 2013 10:51 PM
Wednesday, The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear arguments challenging a state law that forces drivers to prove their citizenship, or face a felony charge. And within the Third Circuit Appeals Court the rulings have been split.
We're talking about the "driving without lawful U.S. presence statute". It was enacted right after September 11th as an anti-terrorism measure, but no one arrested under the law has ever been charged with terrorism.
In Lafayette Parish, in the past 5 years, about 300 arrests were made citing the law. Now, three of them are challenging its constitutionality.
The law (RS 14:100.13) reads: No alien student or non-resident alien shall operate a motor vehicle in the state without documentation demonstrating that the person is lawfully present in the United States. It's a law now coming under fire, but defended by prosecutors.
"When you start talking about the term alien, it has a lot of connotation to it," said Assistant District Attorney Jay Prather. "In this particular case, I suggest, they are trying to twist it to say illegal immigration and we're trying to control it, which is absolutely not the point of the statute."
Prather says it should be the state's right to regulate who can drive on Louisiana roads, but not everyone agrees.
"There's no doubt that the effect, the impact if we looked at the cases, even in Lafayette Parish 95% have Hispanic surnames," said Public Defender Paul Marx. "So that's sort of the policy issue. But the real lynch pin is that the federal government is the only one that can regulate immigration."
Marx is challenging the statute using a Supreme Court decision made last year as ammunition. In the case of Arizona vs. the United States, the justices ruled Arizona was improperly trying to enforce immigration laws, which is now the big question in Louisiana.
"It's a separation of powers argument that's consistent with what Arizona vs. U.S. held. That ruling says the federal government has exclusive power in this arena," said Marx. "Because if we had 50 states regulating immigration it could never work."
"The issue is, do you have your documentation. If it happens to turn out you're illegal, then so be it. If you do have your paperwork then it's cleared up, it's not a problem. I think it's absolutely a constitutional statute," said Prather.
Several foreign governments, including Mexico, and a number of civil rights groups, have voiced support for the challenges against the statue.