A state bill opposed by both Yale and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization that could change the procedures under which foreign citizens can receive driver’s licenses narrowly passed a committee vote yesterday.
The measure, which passed the Connecticut General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee by a vote of 23-21, would require the state to issue non-citizens driver’s licenses that expire when visitors’ legal status in the United States ends. Currently, foreign citizen, like other Connecticut residents, are eligible to apply for four-year or six-year licenses regardless of how long their visas last.
While the bill was introduced as an initiative to strengthen homeland security, both Yale and GESO officials expressed concern that it would pose an unnecessary burden on international students at the University.
GESO Chairwoman Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said her group plans to publicly oppose the legislation and asked Yale President Richard Levin to use his position to help prevent the bill’s passage.
“I think it’s an anti-immigrant bill, and I don’t think that driver’s licenses should be taken away from people who live and work in this state,” Reynolds said. “It will force them to apply and reapply for licenses, which will put undue pressure on the motor vehicle departments.”
Levin said the University is doing its best to oppose the measure by lobbying legislators in Hartford.
“We’re working against it,” Levin said. “Obviously, it won’t be good for our foreign students.”
Supporters of the bill, however, said they expected the measure to have little impact on international visitors who are in the country legally. State Sen. William Nickerson, the ranking member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said he did not believe the bill was “anti-immigration.”
“It would affect some international students, but only those who are here illegally,” said Nickerson, a Republican from Greenwich. “Most students are here legally on student visas, and it shouldn’t cause them any problem. They would just have to show their legal visa, and then they’re in.”
The bill also has the support of Gov. John G. Rowland’s administration and the Republican leadership of both houses of the General Assembly. The legislation, which is now heading to the floor of the House, was approved with the support of most Republicans on the finance panel as well as several Democrats.
“This is a really simple, common-sense homeland security measure that we support,” Rowland spokesman John Wiltse said.
Several legislators said they were unsure whether the bill would pass the General Assembly this year, especially after such a close vote yesterday. Although officials said they were aware that the measure could affect foreign citizens studying in Connecticut, criticism of the bill has largely focused on immigrant rights, not its impact on higher education.
This issue marks the second time in recent months that Levin and GESO have expressed mutual concern over government policies affecting international students. This winter, both sides called on Congress to scale back heightened visa requirements instituted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.