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Labor & Employment

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Immigration Roundup: Shut Up and (Don’t) Drive


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 arrivals program.

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.

In Other News:

  • DACA approval numbers are up to 102,965 as of mid-December, nearly double the 53,273 approved as of mid-November. At the same time, however, the pace of incoming applications appears to have slowed, which could be the result of the election and an easing of the fear that the program would end if Mitt Romney were elected president.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has updated its regulatory agenda, indicating that it plans in 2013 to introduce final and proposed rules affecting certain high-skilled visas, I-9 violations, optional practical training for F-1 students, work authorization for certain H-4 dependents of workers on H-1B visas, and the H-1C nonimmigrant nurse program.
  • Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who has been known for his hard-line stance on immigration, has been tapped by new House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to head the committee’s immigration subcommittee. His appointment drew cheers from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports lower immigration levels, and jeers from immigrant advocate America’s Voice.
  • A Los Angeles labor recruiter is on the hook for $4.5 million for fees it charged to Filipino teachers that it placed in schools in Louisiana. But while the lawsuit was brought as a human trafficking case, the recruiter’s attorney points out that the only violation the jury found was a negligent violation of a little-known California law requiring employment agencies to let recruits know, up front, all of the fees they will be charged.


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