Important update: The Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs–a state agency–has written a letter to the governor, saying it finds that DACA recipients should be eligible for Iowa drivers’ licenses and pointing out that the DOT’s decision conflicts with Iowa law.
This afternoon the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued new guidance clarifying that young immigrants who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—popularly referred to as DREAMers—are authorized to stay and lawfully present in the country, confirming that they are eligible for driver’s licenses in Iowa.
Last month, the Iowa DOT announced that it will not be issuing driver’s licenses to young immigrants brought here before age 16 and who have been granted DACA status that allows them to legally be present in the U.S and provides work authorization for a renewable 2-year period. Today’s federal clarification addresses that interpretation.
The FAQs were issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), a part of DHS.
ACLU of Iowa Staff Attorney Rita Bettis said “It is great to see this confirmation that DACA recipients are eligible for driver’s licenses in Iowa. It clarifies a critical legal point. We are asking for leadership from the Governor on this to direct the DOT to start issuing drivers licenses to DREAMers in light of this clarification from the federal government.”
“Iowa law requires that in order to get a driver’s license, immigrants are ‘authorized to be present,’ ” said Bettis. “This new guidance from the federal government confirms that individuals with deferred action are indeed legally authorized to be in the United States. It puts that issue to rest. “
Specifically, the new language says: “An individual who has received deferred action is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States, and is therefore considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect.”
The ACLU of Iowa and immigrant advocacy groups have maintained that because these young people—who were brought to the U.S. without documentation as children—have been granted temporary legal status to live, work, and study in the U.S., they should also be granted driver’s licenses. Most states have reviewed their laws and issued driver’s licenses to the DREAMers, but only a minority of other states (Michigan, Nebraska, and Arizona) have declined to do so, interpreting the young peoples’ presence as unauthorized.
The ACLU state affiliates in Arizona and Michigan have filed lawsuits challenging state transportation departments that refuse to issue drivers’ licenses to these young people. “Being unable to get a driver’s license effectively makes it impossible for DREAMers to go about their daily lives, preventing them from driving to work, taking their siblings or children to and from school, or even going to the grocery store or hospital,” said Bettis.
This past June, President Obama announced DACA—a new federal program that would protect young people brought to the U.S. without documentation as children. DACA protects them from deportation, provides a social security number, and grants them work permits for a renewable two-year basis. “With DACA, the federal government chose to recognize the contributions that talented and hard-working young immigrants make to our country and to help them achieve their educational and career goals,” said Bettis.
“Licensing drivers is also good policy,” Bettis said. “Having licensed drivers on the road promotes public safety and reduces insurance costs.”
Click here to read the USCIS FAQs