With New Guidelines, Iowa DREAMers May Get Licenses

PHOTO: Vanessa Marcano, an immigrant from Venezuela, speaks about an Iowa Department of Transportation immigrant drivers license policy during the Legislatures Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.

Iowa DREAMers who are granted deferred action may get driver's licenses, the state's Republican governor said Tuesday.

Gov. Terry Branstad has asked the state's transportation department to review the issue following updated guidelines for the president's deportation relief program for DREAMers.

The Department of Transportation said in December that it would not award licenses to deferred action recipients, young undocumented immigrants granted a two-year deportation reprieve. That decision, the DOT said at the time, was made because the program does not grant "lawful status" to recipients.

But a recent update by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to the deferred action program guidelines says that recipients are lawfully present.

"However, although deferred action does not confer a lawful immigration status, your period of stay is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security while your deferred action is in effect and, for admissibility purposes, you are considered to be lawfully present in the United States during that time," reads the USCIS website.

Branstad seemed to indicate during a Tuesday press conference that he would sign a bill granting undocumented immigrants in the state the right to apply for driver's licenses.

But Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for the governor's office, clarified that Branstad's remarks applied "only" to deferred action recipients, and not undocumented immigrants overall.

"As it stood before, the governor believed it would take legislative action to grant driver's licenses" to deferred action recipients, Albrecht said.

But in light of the new USCIS guidelines, the governor has tasked the head of the transportation department "to review the policy to determine if legislative action is still needed" before licenses may be awarded, he continued.

Several states, including Michigan and North Carolina, had said that because deferred action recipients were not granted lawful status, they should not get licenses. But the amended guidelines specifying that recipients have lawful presence have sparked a renewed call for licenses among DREAMers and immigrants' rights groups, and Iowa is unlikely to be the last state to reexamine the issue.

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