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County Grants Driver’s License to Woman Wearing Headscarf

October 9, 2018, 3:29 PM HST
* Updated October 10, 10:35 AM
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The County of Hawai‘i granted a REAL ID compliant driver’s license to a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf in the license photograph on April 18, 2018, after ascertaining the most recent federal guidelines for identification.

Laycie Tobosa. PC: ACLU

The woman, identified as Laycie Tobosa, received a REAL ID compliant driver’s license from the Hilo office of the Hawai‘i County Vehicle Registration and Licensing Division (VRL).

Initially, the County followed the REAL ID requirements in place at the time regarding how an applicant’s photo should appear; the requirements at the time stated that “(t)he face from crown to the base of the chin, and from ear-to-ear, shall be clearly visible and free of shadows. Veils, scarves or headdresses must not obscure any facial features and not generate shadow.”

The Federal Department of Homeland Security, which set forth the REAL ID laws, updated its own interpretation of the requirements regarding head coverings. The updated interpretation of the law was not immediately conveyed to the state or the county.

“As soon as the state and county became aware of the new interpretation of the law, Ms. Tobosa was immediately issued a full REAL ID compliant driver’s license on April 18, 2018,” said Naomi O’Dell, VRL Administrator. “Since that time, we have been consistently following that interpretation.”

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Tobosa first applied for a renewed license on Feb. 1, 2018, and was issued a temporary license as a matter of course, pending the processing of a permanent, plastic license.

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“There was a lot of discussion with the applicant and the State Department of Transportation as we tried to clarify the rules and carry them out correctly,” O’Dell said.

ACLU Hawai‘i response to Hawai‘i County

“The county’s response is misleading,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Wookie Kim. “It seeks to justify its violations of the Constitution by claiming they were unaware of the Department of Homeland Security’s guidance on the REAL ID Act and religious accommodation—which were in fact published on the DHS website as early as 2016. The County of Hawai‘i’s discriminatory enforcement of the REAL ID Act’s photo requirements against Muslim women and women wearing headscarves—but not against people whose hair naturally covers their ears—violates the First Amendment to the Constitution regardless of county officials’ flawed understanding of what “ear-to-ear” means.”

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Kim continued, “Finally, when Ms. O’Dell states that as soon as the county became aware of the correct interpretation of the DHS rules, it issued the license, she neglects to mention that it was Ms. Tobosa herself who sent her the link to the DHS’s guidance on April 18, 2018, after which Ms. O’Dell, without explanation, suddenly reversed course that same day and told Ms. Tobosa that her application would be granted. It is only thanks to Ms. Tobosa’s diligence and persistence that the county’s longstanding misinterpretation and unconstitutional application of what the REAL ID Act requires was brought to light.”

“Regardless of how this profound misinterpretation of the REAL ID Act arose, we are glad that the county is now acknowledging this error, and are hopeful that it will fully comply with our demand letter and treat all who enter the DMV with respect and equality,” said Kim.

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