The Labor & Employment Blog is a forum for practitioners and Bloomberg BNA editors to share ideas, raise issues, and network with colleagues.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
by Laura D. Francis
In many states and metropolitan areas, the ability to work
is dependent upon the ability to drive to the workplace. And that is creating a conundrum for
some young, undocumented immigrants who have received deferred action and work
permits through the Obama administration’s deferred action for childhood
There are now four states that have made the policy decision
not to issue driver’s licenses to DACA beneficiaries: Arizona, Michigan,
Nebraska, and Iowa.
That decision already has spawned lawsuits against Arizona and
Michigan, with the American Civil Liberties Union—which brought those lawsuits—threatening
similar legal action against Nebraska as well. The argument in both cases is that the states grant
driver’s licenses to immigrants who have received deferred action from the
federal government under other circumstances, and that those deferred action
beneficiaries have been granted licenses upon showing their employment
authorization documents, which are identical to the ones granted under
DACA. This practice, the ACLU says, violates DACA beneficiaries’ equal
protection rights and is preempted by federal immigration law.
According to the lawsuits, some 80,000 immigrants eligible
for DACA live in Arizona, while another 15,000 live in Michigan.
But the states say they are hamstrung by the federal
government and its treatment of DACA beneficiaries. Michigan, for example,
is arguing that all of the information from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services indicates that DACA beneficiaries do not have legal status and that
the program does not confer any substantive rights. Where other deferred action
beneficiaries have been granted driver’s licenses, the federal government has
indicated that those individuals are lawfully present in the country.
Arizona’s argument is that DACA beneficiaries lack lawful
status under federal statutory law, and that the state cannot grant public
benefits to those who lack such status. DACA, being a product of executive
action, cannot confer that status.
Taking the opposite stance, Illinois lawmakers Jan. 8 passed a bill to grant a special temporary driver's license not just to DACA recipients, but to all immigrants who are in the state without authorization. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) praised the legislature of his home state, calling the measure a "sensible response to reality and another sign that the immigration policy debate is moving forward."
It looks like the debate will have to work its way through
the courts. But considering the focus on Congress passing a comprehensive
immigration bill this year, the issue may become moot before final judicial resolution.
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