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ACLU sues Indiana BMV, Haitian immigrants bear the brunt of ‘discriminatory’ law

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A federal judge listened to testimony from the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU) against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) over a law that allows only immigrants from Ukraine in the United States on humanitarian parole to obtain a driver’s license Nov. 18.

The ACLU spoke on behalf of five Haitian immigrants in the U.S. on humanitarian parole. The plaintiffs say the law passed earlier this year is unconstitutional and asked the court to change the clause that allows only Ukraine immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

The law was initially created for Ukrainian immigrants fleeing the Russo-Ukrainian War to obtain driver’s licenses or identification cards. The lawsuit is attempting to require the BMV to provide the same opportunities to immigrants on humanitarian parole from other countries. ACLU lawyer Gavin Rose described the law in court as a “textbook example of national origin discrimination.”

ACLU attorneys also argue the law violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

Four of the five Haitian immigrants named in the lawsuit live in rural areas without public transportation. This negatively affects their ability to work and perform everyday activities like getting groceries, according to court documents.

One of the plaintiffs, Jefferson Saint-Hilaire, said he came to the U.S. to provide for his mother and two sisters who still live in Haiti.

According to the complaint, Saint-Hilaire was admitted to the U.S. in March 2023. He is employed as an electrician’s assistant and has a second job as an interpreter; he claims he must turn down a lot of assignments due to his travel restrictions. 

“I just want to be self-sufficient; self-reliable,” he told reporters. “But how can I do that without a driver’s license?”

The state says the law was created to mirror the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act created by Congress, and this means the law does not conflict with any federal laws or federal immigration classifications.

Attorneys for the state argue the restrictions in the law limit its scope to a certain time frame, meaning it is not available to all people from Ukraine.

The Haitian plaintiffs’ attorneys say the time restrictions were designed to aid people specifically from Ukraine.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt will issue a ruling at an unspecified date.

Contact Racial Justice Reporter Garrett Simms at 317-762-7847.

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