New Guidance Could Impact Driver License Debate For Young Immigrants
January 18, 2013

PHOENIX -- New figures published Friday show more than 150,000 young immigrants have qualified for two-year work permits and a reprieve from deportation under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, known as DACA.

New federal guidance on the initiative may also inform the debate over whether these immigrants can get driver's licenses in some states.

Immigrants under age 31 who were brought to the country illegally as children and meet other requirements can qualify for DACA. So far, more than 400,000 people have applied.

While a majority of states have granted driver's licenses to those who are granted DACA status, a handful of states have said no.

These include Arizona, Michigan, Iowa and Nebraska. Last week, North Carolina's Department of Motor Vehicles indicated it would revoke licenses that had been already issued to DACA recipients, but the Attorney General issued an opinion on Thursday saying they are in fact eligible for licenses.

Back in August, Matt Benson, a spokesman for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, explained why Brewer issued an executive order barring DACA recipients from driver's licenses.

"Arizona law is very clear that you have to have lawful presence to receive an Arizona's driver's license," Benson said.

But new federal guidance issued Friday clarifies that DACA recipients are considered to be "lawfully present" by the Department of Homeland Security.

"So if you are a state like Arizona that is making decisions on who gets a license based on that standard, the answer is now crystal clear," said Michael Tan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. "Dreamers with DACA should be entitled for driver's licenses. They should be in that category of eligible people."

The federal guidance all along has stated these immigrants do not have "lawful status," which is a different standard than "lawful presence" in federal immigration law.

Reached Friday afternoon for comment, Governor's Office spokesman Matt Benson said his office had just received the new federal guidance.

"At this point the Governor and her legal team are reviewing this and are trying to determine the best path forward," Benson said.

The ACLU and other civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging Arizona's ban on drivers licenses for these immigrants in November.

A hearing in that case is scheduled for March.