Government and Law

State will now grant driver's licenses to DACA immigrants

February 5, 2013
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State will not grant driver's licenses to immigrants under federal policy
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson speaking at an event in Detroit. Photo via Facebook

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has announced that her department will begin issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards to recipients of the federal Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program — starting Feb. 19.

Johnson had originally said the Department of State would not issue driver’s licenses to this group of individuals, because they were not considered legally present in the United States.

However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services clarified DACA last month: “immigrants approved under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are lawfully present in the United States.”

“Michigan will only issue driver’s licenses to individuals who are here legally," Johnson said. "The feds now say they consider these young people to be lawfully present while they participate in the DACA program, so we are required to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards. I will continue to follow the law.”

DACA offers deferred action to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and meet additional specific requirements. The program was introduced last summer by President Obama and implemented by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,

Many consider the issuing of driver’s licenses to be an important aspect of the program, because it allows DACA beneficiaries better job and school opportunities through increased transportation options. Most states have begun issuing driver’s licenses to recipients of this policy, but a few, including Michigan, had declined to do so.

The licenses and IDs will have an expiration date that will coincide with the day the license holder’s legal presence expires.

“Deferred action has been around for many years under existing law,” said Luis Avila, an attorney with Varnum in Grand Rapids. “This wasn’t a new law; it wasn’t passed by Congress. It was purely an executive measure. . . . All the executive branch did was say we are going to expand the criteria under which people are given deferred action.”

An estimated 1.76 million youth in the U.S. are eligible for the DACA program, including about 15,000 in Michigan, according to the ACLU of Michigan.

Avila said that despite initial questions around the issuing of driver’s licenses, he has already seen an increase in people applying for deferred status under the DACA program.

More applicants will likely apply for the program now that driver’s licenses will be issued. 

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