Who Does America Want?

  • In La Grange, Georgia, unpaid fines and fees for minor infractions from more than a decade ago were added to utility bills, resulting in termination if they remained unpaid. The unpaid balances ranged  from $200 and $4000. 
  • In Jacksonville, Florida, if someone fails to pay a $65 pedestrian ticket, their license can be suspended. Black drivers, who only represent 29 percent of the city’s population, were given 55 percent of the pedestrian tickets and 54 percent of those people received a license suspension because they failed to pay the ticket.  

This paper details the fines and fees imposed on people for traffic offenses in Connecticut, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia, and immigration-related fees imposed on people seeking citizenship in the US. The author argues that the effects of these costs are similar in the way that they disproportionately burden immigrants, poor, Brown, and Black people, and they send a message that these groups are unwanted in America. The text includes personal narratives that show how these fines and fees are detrimental to people’s livelihood and presents recommendations to lessen the burden of these costs.   

You can read the full text of the article here

Key findings


  • Driver’s licenses are suspended for nonpayment of fines and failure to appear in court. People must pay the fine to remove the suspension and a $175 reinstatement fee. Fines for driving without a license range from $75 to $90. 
  • Fines for driving with a suspended license in Connecticut range from $150 to $250 for the first offense and $200 to $600 for the second offense, in addition to a five-year license revocation and a jail sentence up to one year. 

South Carolina

  • Black people make up 27 percent of the population and they constitute almost half (48 percent) of the state’s driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay traffic tickets. 
  • It costs drivers $100 to reinstate a license in addition to paying the fine. Penalties for driving with a suspended license include fines ranging from $300 to $1000 and between 30 and 90 days of imprisonment, depending on the offense. 


  • Within ten days following a failure to appear in court or pay a fine, a driver’s license can be suspended. 
  • One in eight drivers has a suspended license and less than four percent of license suspensions are due to unsafe driving. 
  • After payment of outstanding fines and fees, the minimum reinstatement fee for a suspended license is $67. Drivers whose license is suspended for failure to pay are not eligible for a restricted license unlike drivers whose license is suspended for drunk driving. 
  • Clerks may refer accounts that are more than 90 days past due to a collection agency that can add an additional 40 percent of the original debt. 


  • In at least three cities in the state, residents’ tax returns are intercepted for unpaid fines and fees. 


  • The government should grant restricted licenses to people whose license was suspended for ticket debt. 
  • There should be a nationwide cap on revenue collected from fines, fees, and court costs. 
  • More judges should seriously consider a person’s ability to pay as required by the law and they should automatically order community service or a free diversion program when a person is unable to pay. 
  • A day fines system should be implemented so people are able to pay according to their income. 
  • Payment plans should be available without an initiation fee and interest rates for delinquent payments. 
  • All laws that allow people to be placed in county jail because they were unable to pay fines and fees for traffic tickets and other minor misdemeanors should be repealed.
Jarienn James, New York Law School
Georgetown Immigration Law Journal