Government and Law

State will not grant driver's licenses to DACA immigrants

October 19, 2012
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State will not grant driver's licenses to immigrants under federal policy
Ruth Johnson. Photo via Facebook

The Michigan Secretary of State’s office has announced that it will not issue driver’s licenses to beneficiaries of a federal policy pertaining to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

The state SOS determined earlier this month that under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, beneficiaries are not “legally present” in the United States -- a requirement for obtaining a Michigan driver’s license, since the policy does not grant lawful status.

Initially, it seemed that the Michigan Secretary of State would be issuing driver’s licenses to these beneficiaries.

“The DACA doesn’t grant legal status to the individual that’s participating, initially that was our understanding,” said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State. “Because of additional information we’ve been provided by the federal government, we now know that they will not be given any legal status, and under state law, we are not able to issue driver’s licenses or state ID cards to people who are not legally present in the United States.”

Michigan law requires the SOS to verify the legal presence of a person applying for an ID or driver’s license who is not a citizen of the United States.

Attorney Robert A. Alvarez, Esq., co-founder of Avanti Law Group, said that he understands the legal argument but that Secretary of State Ruth Johnson could have exercised her discretion and chose not to do so in this case, which he believes is an incorrect decision.

“Imagine, they have the right to go to work or school, college primarily, but no means of getting there,” Alvarez said. “Unless they live within walking distance of school or a job, it’s very important. I would say it’s crippling. It almost defeats the purpose behind the entire program to begin with.”

The DACA policy was issued by President Barack Obama on June 15 and implemented by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. The policy offers “deferred action” to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and meet additional specific requirements. Under “deferred action,” undocumented immigrants are able to legally work in the United States and may request an Employment Authorization Document. It is expected that 1.7 million undocumented immigrants will be eligible and will apply for the status.

DACA allows students the opportunity to legally live, work and go to school in the United States for a period of two years, but Alvarez said that without a driver’s license, those opportunities will be severely impacted. He said that it will impact the kinds of employment, if any, DACA young people will be able to obtain as well as their ability to attend college due to transportation challenges.

Alvarez noted that states are not clearly falling one way or the other in making this decision. States like Michigan and Arizona are choosing not to issue driver’s licenses, while states such as California have made the decision to issue them to eligible young people.

“The individuals eligible for this program were essentially brought to the U.S. by their parents and had no choice in the matter,” Alvarez explained.

The DACA requirements were created with bipartisan support, he said, from the DREAM Act.

The Avanti Law Group is working with several other pro-immigrant organizations and other attorneys in deciding what course of action they may pursue to resolve the issues created by the SOS decision. He said litigation is certainly an option, but it would be a lengthy option and the program is only valid for two years.

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