The ACLU of Iowa was surprised and extremely disappointed that the Iowa Department of Transportation announced last week that it will not be issuing driver’s licenses to young immigrants brought here before age 16 and who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that allows them to legally be present in the U.S and provides work authorization for a renewable 2-year period.

December 30, 2012

The decision Thursday could affect the approximately 5,000 young Iowa immigrants who have been allowed by President Obama’s executive order to legally work and stay in the United States.

The DOT’s announcement came about two months after the ACLU of Iowa sent a letter to Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino, asking him to confirm that these “deferred action” recipients—sometimes referred to as DREAMers--would be eligible to apply for Iowa driver’s licenses and ID cards. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has left it up to the states to decide whether or not to allow deferred action recipients to apply for driver’s licenses and other state benefits.

Bettis, Legislative Director and Staff Sttorney for the ACLU of Iowa, wrote in the letter that these young “deferred action recipients” are eligible for the licenses when Iowa implements REAL ID-compliant DOT regulations in January. She noted that under the REAL ID Act of 2005, which requires states to verify an applicant’s legal status in the U.S. before issuing them driver’s licenses or ID cards, those who are approved for deferred action have a lawful status.

Iowa law provides for licensure of immigrants who are "authorized to be present," but the DOT is denying that young DREAMers granted deferred action under DACA are authorized to be present—despite the fact that DACA confirms that recipients can stay for a renewable 2 year period, provides them with a Social Security Number, and employment authorization. "We think the DOT’s decision defies commonsense and a plain reading of the relevant laws and regulations," said Bettis.

The ACLU and others have already filed lawsuits in Michigan and Arizona challenging decisions in those states to deny driver’s licenses to those allowed to work and stay in the country under the federal program.