DREAMers in Limbo as States Flip Flop on Driver's Licenses

PHOTO: Young people hold signs in support of the DREAM Act.One America/Flickr
Young people hold signs in support of the DREAM Act.

North Carolina will not award driver's licenses to young undocumented immigrants granted a two-year deportation reprieve through deferred action until the state's Division of Motor Vehicles receives a legal opinion that requires it.

The agency made the announcement Friday after initially indicating over the summer that DREAMers would be eligible for licenses.

Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the state's DMV, disputes the idea that the state has waffled on whether to issue licenses.

"Nothing has changed down here," Howell said. "We have requested, actually back in September, an opinion from the North Carolina attorney general about how [deferred action] conforms to North Carolina law. And so we have to have that determination and opinion from the attorney general's office before we can issue them, and we have not issued them while we're waiting on that opinion."

But according to the Charlotte Observer, some DREAMers in the state have already received licenses.

"Days after being accepted into the deferred action program, Marco Valencia, 20, of East Charlotte, visited the Albemarle DMV office to get his driver's license. He handed them his Social Security card and work permit," according to the paper, which also reported that Valencia received a license.

Howell said she didn't know of any specific licenses that had been issued.

"I do not know," she said, "and we are just going to have to see. I don't know that we've identified any that were issued. At the moment we are holding off."

The Obama administration has indicated that it is up to each state whether to award driver's licenses to those awarded deferred action. Some states, including California, Florida, Nevada and Connecticut, have said they will. Others, including Arizona, Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan have declined to issue driver's licenses to DREAMers.

North Carolina is not the first state to waver on the issue. Michigan indicated in August that it would issue driver's licenses to those granted deferred action, before announcing in October that DREAMers will not, in fact, be eligible.

Iowa, which recently announced that it would not issue licenses, granted at least two licenses to deferred action recipients before switching course. A spokesman told ABC/Univision that the licenses would have to be returned.

And although the deferred action program was announced more than six months ago, in June, a number of states have yet to issue any guidance. Oregon said in mid-December that its deferred action recipients would not get licenses before retracting that decision a few days later, saying the issue was still under consideration.

David House, a spokesman for Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles Services, said he expects his state to issue guidance on the issue "really soon," probably "next week."

The deferred action program grants people a deportation reprieve through prosecutorial discretion. But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said it does not "provide an individual with lawful status."

Some states have argued that lawful status is required to obtain a driver's license. Others have said that because deferred action recipients receive work permits and are granted the right to work, they are also eligible to drive.

"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," a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of State told ABC/Univision in December.

Nevada interprets the program differently. Governor Brian Sandoval issued a statement in late November indicating that because deferred action recipients have employment authorization cards, and that card is issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the work permits count as a valid form of identification for people applying for driver's licenses.

Immigrants' rights groups, such as the National Immigration Law Center, and undocumented young people have called on states to issue licenses. DREAMers, particularly those who live in rural and suburban areas, say it can be nearly impossible to get to work unless they drive.