Feb. 4, 2013 -- In a reversal from its original position, Michigan said Friday that DREAMers will be eligible for driver's licenses.
Licenses will be available only to young undocumented immigrants granted a two-year reprieve from deportation through the federal deferred action program.
"Michigan will only issue driver's licenses to individuals who are here legally," Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R) said in a statement. "The feds now say they consider these young people to be lawfully present while they participate in the DACA program, so we are required to issue driver's licenses and identification cards. I will continue to follow the law."
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency in charge of administering the program, stated in January that deferred action recipients are "lawfully present" in the country. That language was not included in the original guidelines and some states, including Michigan, had said recipients were ineligible for licenses because they lacked legal status.
Michigan is not the only state to flip on the issue in the wake of the new guidelines. Iowa also reversed its original policy and will now award licenses to deferred action recipients in the state. Nebraska, Arizona and North Carolina do not currently issue licenses to deferred action recipients.
The North Carolina attorney general said recently that DREAMers in the state are eligible for licenses under the updated USCIS guidelines, but it is unclear whether the state will begin issuing licenses. Calls to the North Carolina Department of Transportation were not returned.
Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles Director Rhonda Lahm said the state is currently "discussing" whether to amend the current policy.
Michigan DREAMers may begin applying for licenses and IDs on February 19. The licenses will look like regular driver's licenses, but they will have a new "limited term" designation. The expiration date will coincide with the day the license holder's deferred action period expires, but the deportation relief is renewable under the federal program.
Several groups, including the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), had filed a lawsuit against Michigan for blocking DREAMers from obtaining licenses. They argued that since deferred action recipients have been eligible for work permits since the beginning of the program, they should also have been eligible for licenses. Those groups welcomed the reversal and said it is an important step in granting DREAMers nationwide the right to drive.
"Michigan today reached a decision that is legally and morally sound," said NILC senior attorney Tanya Broder in a statement following the reversal. "Their decision provides DREAMers with deferred action the opportunity to contribute more fully to their communities and to their families. Arizona and Nebraska, which continue to deny driver's licenses to DREAMers, should take note: they are among a dwindling number of states that stand on the wrong side of history and the law."
DREAMers praised the decision and said they will now be able to drive to school and work.
"Michigan DREAMers now join the scores of DACA-mented DREAMers from coast to coast—from California to Texas to Maryland and more—receiving driver's licenses, a key step toward helping many in our community achieve their dreams of higher education and a rewarding career," Lorella Praeli, director of Advocacy and Policy at United We Dream, said in a statement.