PORTLAND — Eleven airport taxi owners and drivers from Somalia are suing the city over a new policy that will prohibit them from using authorized representatives to renew their licenses.

The plaintiffs say the requirement for them to appear in person is a hardship, particularly for immigrants whose family situations require them to travel long distances. They also argue that the policy is contrary to a state law that requires the city to honor valid powers of attorney.

“We just see it as another piece of red tape that’s put in the way of these gentlemen and trying to make it harder for them to earn a living and do business in the city,” Sigmund Schutz, the group’s lawyer, said Monday at a news conference about the lawsuit.

Schutz noted that his clients are not seeking any relaxation of substantive requirements such as criminal background checks, insurance and driver’s licenses.

The lawsuit, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court on Monday, names the city and Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport, as defendants. In a motion for a temporary restraining order, the plaintiffs say the consequences of the policy are dire, because Dec. 31 is the deadline for them to renew their licenses to operate at the airport. Bradbury announced the new policy in early November.

In affidavits, some of the men explain how they have benefited from using powers of attorney. The documents describe how family matters, work opportunities and schooling require trips away from Portland.

Nadiif Abdi told of how a friend who owns a taxi tracked down his wife, who was pregnant when they were separated by the outbreak of civil war in Somalia. The friend went to Ethiopia to see his wife and daughter, and asked Abdi to manage his business while he was away.

After a separation of 25 years, Abdinour Hassan went to see his 80-year-old mother at a refugee camp. She became very ill and he extended his stay, remaining for seven months to care for her. He said communication and transportation were difficult, but he had appointed someone to renew his permit.

“I was luckier than another taxi driver who traveled about the same time to see his sick mother,” Hassan said in the affidavit. “His mother died so he needed to stay extra time. He didn’t leave behind power of attorney and lost his business.”

The new policy has the potential to affect about 50 owners or drivers of non-reserved airport taxis.

About two years ago, the City Council’s Transportation Committee decided to cap the number of jetport taxis at 40. It allowed existing permits to be maintained, which brought the total to 50, said Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman. The expectation was that the total would eventually reach 40 through attrition.

“There’s a finite amount of space for the actual vehicles, for the queuing up,” Clegg said. “It just made sense to put in some kind of limit in terms of what we could accommodate.”

After that decision was made, Clegg said, the city started to accept powers of attorney for permit renewals, although it indicated that it needed to research the legal implications.

The city’s legal analysis concluded that the permits are not transferable through powers of attorney under the city code, Clegg said. She said that while permit holders are required to apply in person, the city is willing to work with people who indicate before the deadline that they will be unavailable, if they plan to return to Portland within a reasonable period of time.

License renewals and fees of $400 are due in June and December. The periods are six months rather than a year because of taxi owners and drivers who wanted to break up the cost, Clegg said.

Schutz said powers of attorney are not being used to sell taxi businesses and circumvent the cap on jetport taxis. He said that while an owner could designate power of attorney to a driver, the owner would have to keep his or her name on aspects of the business, like the vehicle and insurance.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]