Here is a link to the opinion piece in the NH Bar News or you can continue reading below.
Amongst the many legislative measure considered every session by the New Hampshire General Court, there are always a couple that catch my eye as being of particular significance to my immigration law clients. This year is no exception. There are two bills likely to be laws by the time you read this that will affect the lives of my clients here in New Hampshire. The first of these, SB 394, modifies our marriage laws and is part policy and part technical corrections bill.
Most everyone now knows that New Hampshire recognizes same-sex marriages – but did you know a same-sex marriage solemnized in the state becomes null and void if the parties actually reside in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex couples? Senate Bill 394 ends this practice of self-defeating our own marriage laws. Upon enactment, such marriages will remain legal in New Hampshire (and federally), while other states can maintain their right not to recognize the validity of the bond. This bill is not directed towards immigrants, but this issue comes up quite often in the immigration context, as legal residence is often a direct result of a marital relationship. We have had clients in the recent past who wished to be married in New Hampshire but who had to be directed to our neighboring New England states to avoid the very problems SB 394 is designed to solve.
The second bill is also, at least ostensibly, not directed at the immigrant population. House Bill 1135 will, however, have an impact that falls hardest on the undocumented immigrant community and those in the process of legalizing their immigration status. This bill changes the current law regarding operating a motor vehicle without a valid New Hampshire driver’s license. As it stands today, driving without a valid license is a violation of law for which a person must appear in court and, if convicted, pay a fine. Only if a person is convicted twice within a calendar year will he or she be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face possible jail time.
Under HB 1135, that changes, for some. I have heard the law is a response to the tragic deaths of two cyclists in Hampton (and serious injury to others) last year caused by an unlicensed driver. While I support the Legislature’s desire to try to prevent such occurrences, I think this bill missed the mark. I don’t know whether HB 1135 would have changed what happened in the Hampton case, but it will certainly negatively affect my clients. For example, a New Hampshire resident who, due to inattention, lack of motivation, or some other reason, fails to renew his or her license for up to a year and is caught driving will still only be guilty of a violation, unless it happens twice in 12 months.
However, a person who never had a New Hampshire license or has one that expired could be arrested and found guilty of a misdemeanor and jailed. Immigrants who are undocumented cannot be issued a driver’s license in New Hampshire; those immigrants who are in the process of obtaining legal status or fighting to keep their status often can go long periods of time without the necessary documentation to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license. Those are the people who are going to be penalized by the new law – not persons who have had a license suspended or revoked and, for the most part, not unlicensed US citizens, either.
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