Some laws are just too nasty to be overlooked by an independent judiciary. One such law was declared unconstitutional by a Louisiana Circuit Court Judge in a recent decision. The court struck down a Louisiana statute making it a felony for immigrants to drive without documents to prove they’re legally in the United States. If they can’t prove it, they are charged with a crime and given up to a year in prison.
The law also says that the person’s driver’s license is cancelled automatically and he’s referred to Immigration authorities, presumably for deportation. The U.S. Supreme Court has been inconsistent in its rulings on this subject, but the Louisiana judge cited to a Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of a similar law in another state. That law had a provision that was worded differently than the one here.
In that other case, dealing with an Arizona statute, the Supreme Court upheld a provision allowing police to determine the immigration status of someone they stop if they have reasonable suspicion to suspect illegal status. That wording is somewhat more specific and protective of due process than the Louisiana statute. The Louisiana law in essence takes away a criminal defense by making the accused prove something to avoid arrest rather than putting the burden on the prosecution. The Louisiana Circuit Court judge also ruled that federal immigration law on this subject supersedes and pre-empts this law.
There is some belief that the Louisiana law, passed in 2002, was intended to combat terrorism after the 9/11 tragedy. However, police are said to be using the law to shake down ethnic-looking people who are mostly Hispanic and who are indiscriminately charged with a crime. The case will go to the Louisiana Supreme Court if the state appeals this decision.
Source: Huffington Post, “Louisiana Court Strikes Down Undocumented Immigrant Driving Law As Unconstitutional,” Hunter Stuart, May 7, 2013