DACA students will soon be labeled ‘ineligible voters’

(left to right) Legislative Intern Jaime Rangel, Georgia State Rep. Brenda Lopez, and DACA recipient Diana Vela-Martinez sit on a SGA DACA Panel Discussion and Forum, March 6, 2017. Photo Submitted by Gabriela Batista-Vargas

The Georgia’s House Public Safety Committee approved House 324 Bill (HB 324), which requires Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to be issued driver’s licenses and identification that states ‘ineligible voter’ — a change from the previous proposal of ‘non-resident’.  

The Act is said to be effective July 1, 2018 with its purpose to prevent voter fraud, according to the bill’s sponsor Sen. Joshua McKoon of District 29. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimated the cost for producing the new cards to be approximately $450,000.

DACA is a policy enacted by the Obama administration in 2012 for immigrant minors who entered the United States to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and also grants work permits.

If the HB 324 is signed into law, Georgia will be the first state to enact a bill to put voter eligibility on licenses. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia viewed the bill as a way to stigmatize immigrants.

“The ACLU of Georgia opposes HB 324, because it is an unnecessary and discriminatory piece of legislation,” the organization said in a statement.

DACA recipient Diana Vela-Martinez, who attends the University of North Georgia, said she already faces adversities and backlash just for being an advocate for other DACA individuals.

“When you’re really passionate about a situation or when you want to be a voice for individuals, unfortunately you get backlash,” Vela-Martinez said. “I have gotten death threats [from] people who find me on Facebook because of different articles and interviews. They find me and they send me some very hurtful messages.”

In addition to the cyber threats Vela-Martinez faces, there has been an increase in hostile physical encounters when asked for identification in public.

“It is a little scarier when it’s adults who get in my face and ask me for my identification and for my driver’s license, social security, and for saying no, they do get a little hostile, they do get a little closer to showing physical confrontation, but you have to stay calm and tell them you know your rights,” she said.

In President Donald Trump’s campaign, he vowed to repeal DACA on his first day in office, but has yet to provide plans to revoke the program. Attorney Pamela Peynado Stewart is hopeful it won’t happen, but said she understands that it is a possibility.

“With an executive order he could essentially say we’re doing away with this program and that these individuals could now face deportation,” Stewart said. “By going to these meetings with state representatives, from what I see is that they are really [advocating] of DACA. Especially because these students don’t really have any crimes and they are active and engaging in our community.”

March 2 began the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Deferred Action of Childhood Arrival (DACA) Awareness Week and on March 6, SGA held a DACA panel for Georgia State students to ask questions and understand current laws and policies that might affect DACA students.