DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged the Michigan Secretary of State to immediately begin issuing driver’s licenses and identification cards to young immigrants brought to the country as children – commonly known as DREAMers – after the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued new guidance today that makes it unequivocally clear that they are authorized to be in the U.S. and are therefore eligible for driver’s licenses.
“For the bright young DREAMers whom the federal government has authorized to live and work in the U.S., the ability to obtain driver’s licenses is an important step to realizing the American dream of working, going to college, and giving back to their communities,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. “Now that the federal government has confirmed that DREAMers are legally present, the Secretary of State has all the information she asked for. We hope and expect that the Secretary will make good on her promise and issue licenses to DREAMers immediately so that their dreams aren’t dashed.”
For months, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has maintained that it is unclear whether young immigrants who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are authorized under federal law to be present in the U.S. and, therefore, eligible to receive driver’s licenses or ID cards. Johnson has repeatedly stated that she will issue driver’s licenses if the federal government confirms that DREAMers are legally present. Today, the USCIS provided exactly the clarification that was sought by the Secretary of State. The guidelines state:
“An individual who has received deferred action is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States, and is therefore considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect.”
In June 2012, the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain undocumented immigrant youth who came to the U.S. as children may live and work in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In October 2012, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office announced that it will not issue driver’s licenses to beneficiaries of this federal policy.
The following month, the ACLU sent the Secretary of State a detailed letter explaining that DREAMers are legally authorized under federal law to be present in the United States. These DACA recipients, the ACLU explained, are no different from other immigrants who have received work authorization and who are routinely issued licenses and identification cards by the Secretary of State’s office.
At a subsequent meeting, Secretary of State Johnson continued to express concern that federal law was unclear and insisted that she had no choice but to deny driver’s licenses and personal identification cards to DREAMers in order to comply with federal law. She agreed that if the federal government provided clarification that DACA recipients were legally present in the country, she would issue driver’s licenses and ID cards to them.
In December 2012, the ACLU of Michigan along with the National ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the National Immigrant Law Center and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of young immigrants denied driver’s licenses. The ACLU’s lawsuit, filed in federal court, asks for a ruling that DACA recipients are legally authorized to be in the U.S. and therefore eligible for licenses. If the Michigan Secretary of State follows today’s guidance, the lawsuit would not move forward.
An estimated 1.76 million youth in the United States are eligible for the DACA program, including about 15,000 in Michigan.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services FAQ