Mixed Messages On Licenses For Deferred Action
August 24, 2012

Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles

PHOENIX -- Last week, California Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman Armando Botello confirmed that young undocumented immigrants in the state who qualified for a new deportation relief program would be eligible for temporary licenses under the agency's current guidelines.

But by Monday, the Contra Costa Times reported the agency was softening its message.

The agency's new statement is that while it appeared those qualifying for deferred action and work permits would be eligible for licenses, "it remains uncertain whether clarifying legislation or regulations will be necessary."

Much of the confusion in California and elsewhere stems from the fact that the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have left it up to the states to determine which benefits will be available to immigrants who qualify for the federal program.

The federal government began accepting applications on Aug. 15 from immigrants between the ages of 16 and 30 who were brought to the country illegally as children, are enrolled in school or graduated from high school, and have been in the country five years.

The USCIS guidelines do make clear that those who receive deferred action will not have "lawful status," which has caused some states to question whether they can receive licenses.

As we reported last week, that seems to be the legal basis for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's Executive Order denying licenses and benefits to deferred action recipients. Yet critics say her order conflicts which state law, which only requires lawful presence -- which is different than lawful status under federal law--to get a license.

Nebraska's governor was the first to announce he would follow Arizona's lead in denying benefits to deferred action recipients.

"The State of Nebraska will continue its practice of not issuing driver’s licenses, welfare benefits or other public benefits to illegal immigrants unless specifically authorized by Nebraska statute," Gov. Dave Heineman said in a statement.

As for what the Nebraska statute currently says? It reads that driver's license applicants must prove "lawful status" which deferred action recipients technically won't have. Yet the statute accepts valid work permits as proof of lawful status, which the deferred action recipients will have.

Texas Governor Rick Perry wrote a letter to his Attorney General and state agencies with the following instructions: “To avoid any confusion on the impact of the Obama administration's actions, I am writing to ensure that all Texas agencies understand that Secretary Napolitano's guidelines confer absolutely no legal status whatsoever to any alien who qualifies for the federal 'deferred action' designation."

While the message may have sounded tough, a few days later, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed those who receive work permits through deferred action and meet the other requirements could get temporary licenses.

In Georgia, which passed an Arizona-style immigration enforcement law, the Associated Press obtained a letter from state Attorney General Sam Olens on the driver's license question.

While Olens wrote that while he disagreed with Obama's deferred action program, he acknowledged that "state law recognizes the approval of deferred action status as a basis for issuing a temporary driver's license."

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