Michigan DREAMers Won't Get Licenses; Civil Rights Groups Sue

PHOTO: Plaintiff Leen Nour El-Zayat, at podium, a third-year pre-medical student at Wayne State University, speaks during a press conference at the ACLU of Michigan headquarters, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 in Detroit.

Michigan has said it will not permit young undocumented immigrants granted deferred action to obtain driver's licenses. But immigrant-rights groups are not going down without a fight.

Several groups, including the National Immigration Law Cente (NILC), filed a suit against Republican Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson this week for blocking licenses for DREAMers.

The deferred action program, which awards young undocumented immigrants two-year, renewable reprieves from deportation, also makes recipients eligible for work permits. But DREAMers argue those permits don't do much good unless they have a way of getting to their jobs. Some also say they find it difficult to get to school without a license.

See Also: How DREAMers Made the Deferred-Action Program a Reality

"I need to be able to drive so I can get a job and attend medical school, which I have wanted to do since I was a little kid," said Plaintiff Leen Nour El-Zayat, a third-year pre-medical student at Wayne State University in a statement. "I just want to serve as a role model for my younger siblings and continue contributing to my community."

About 15,000 young people are eligible to apply for deferred action in Michigan. There's no breakdown of how many have applied by state, but almost 103,000 have been approved nationwide. Arizona and Nebraska have said they will not issue driver's licenses to DREAMers. Other states, including California, Florida, and Nevada, will issue the licenses. According to The Oregonian, Oregon is still deliberating the issue.

"Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services said Friday that it would not issue driver's licenses to those recipients. However, officials retracted that decision late Wednesday, saying there is still an ongoing discussion with the Oregon Department of Justice about the issue," read an article posted to the site Wednesday evening.

The Oregon Department of State did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Michigan's governor has said that his goal is to become the most 'pro-immigration' governor in the country; there is nothing more pro-immigration than allowing young people to fulfill their dreams of working and going to school," Miriam Aukerman, staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, which filed the complaint with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement. "Secretary Johnson's argument that someone can be authorized to work, however, somehow not authorized to be present in this country, defies commonsense and breaks the law."

But according to Gisgie Dávila Gendreau, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of State, Michigan cannot legally issue the licenses.

"State law doesn't allow for it," she said. "Michigan law requires a customer be here legally and the information we have from the federal government…is that [deferred action] does not grant legal status, so under Michigan law we can't issue the licenses.

"Each state law is probably slightly different," Gendreau continued, "so that's why you'll see different states making different determinations."

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