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Branstad administration rethinking driver's license policy (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 07:15:00 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad indicated yesterday that the Iowa Department of Transportation will review its policy on driver's licenses for immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. He also suggested that if the Iowa legislature addresses this issue, he would sign a bill allowing approximately 5,000 undocumented immigrants with this status to receive Iowa driver's licenses and non-operator IDs.

UPDATE: On the afternoon of January 23, the Iowa DOT announced it will issue driver's licenses to immigrants with deferred status. The full official statement is at the end of this post.

desmoinesdem :: Branstad administration rethinking driver's license policy (updated)
The Iowa DOT announced in December that it "will not issue driver's licenses or nonoperator identification (ID) cards to persons granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services," because "the exercising of this prosecutorial discretion by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not grant lawful status or a lawful immigration path to persons granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status."

But on January 18, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services updated its information on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, making clear that "although deferred action does not confer a lawful immigration status, your period of stay is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security while your deferred action is in effect and, for admissibility purposes, you are considered to be lawfully present in the United States during that time."

At his regular weekly press conference on January 22, Branstad told reporters,

"The Department of Transportation is looking at this information that Homeland Security has put out and they're going to be reviewing that over the next few days," Branstad says. "They just, I think, received this information via the Homeland Security website on Friday, so this is the first day back to work (because of the Martin Luther King Holiday), so the DOT will be reviewing this." [...]

"Actually, I believe the Department of Transportation has a responsibility to follow Iowa law and if the legislators feel that there should be a change in the law, then they are in a position to change the law," Branstad says.

Asked whether he would sign such a law, Branstad responded, "I've indicated a willingness to, yes."

Emily DeRuy of ABC News followed up with the governor's communications director.

Branstad seemed to indicate during a Tuesday press conference that he would sign a bill granting undocumented immigrants in the state the right to apply for driver's licenses.

But Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for the governor's office, clarified that Branstad's remarks applied "only" to deferred action recipients, and not undocumented immigrants overall.

"As it stood before, the governor believed it would take legislative action to grant driver's licenses" to deferred action recipients, Albrecht said.

But in light of the new USCIS guidelines, the governor has tasked the head of the transportation department "to review the policy to determine if legislative action is still needed" before licenses may be awarded, he continued.

I hope the Iowa DOT reverses its policy. Although Iowa House Republicans Guy Vander Linden and Dave Heaton have publicly criticized the decision, Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen doesn't sound convinced.

Chairmen of the House and Senate Transportation committees are unaware of legislative proposals to change the law cited by Branstad and [Iowa DOT Director Paul] Trombino.

"Members who have said things to me, but I don't think there's any caucus consensus," added House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha. "We'll have to see where it goes - if anywhere."

At least two statehouse Democrats, Senator Steve Sodders and House Assistant Minority Leader Mark Smith, plan to introduce legislation to allow immigrants with deferred status to receive Iowa driver's licenses. The bill is still in the drafting process.

UPDATE: Sodders and Smith attended a public meeting about the driver's license issue in Marshalltown on January 21. Sodders posted his remarks from the event on Facebook.

I want to thank Joan Jaimes and others for inviting me here today to speak about the Dreamers and a proposal I have to allow them to getting a license under Iowa law.

Some great news came to me in the last few days. The federal government has made it clear to DOT's in the states that the deferred Action given to students under this rule allows driver's licenses. I stand ready to propose legislation if the Governor and his leadership refuse to follow the rules.

It is always appropriate to recite a quote from MLK on this day, He said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.',...These words and many, many, others spoken by MLK are just as relevant in our lives today as they were when he was here with us.

I promise to stand with the Dreamers rather than stand with the Haters.

We have young, bright, students here in our community and other communities in Iowa who are dreaming today. They dream of a better life for themselves and their families. They dream of getting their citizenship, to have on paper what they know in their hearts. If given a chance the Dreamers are ready to be Citizens of the United States, and of Iowa. They dream of a day when people in this community do not refer to them as "Illegals" but as Neighbors. When barriers are taken down not put up.

I want to stand with those that call them Neighbors, Friends, colleagues, business leaders, Classmates, and Iowans NOT "Illegals".

The people of Iowa invest nearly $100,000 in a student from Kindergarten through their high school graduation. We need to make sure that investment stays here and can be leveraged to benefit Iowa. What sense does it make to invest that kind of money only to have it forced out of the state with that student? Not being able to fully realize the benefits of that investment? It makes no sense. We should make sure that investment is fully realized. Iowa should be a welcoming place, tearing down the barriers that hold the Dreamers back.

We are a better America then we were decades ago, but We will be even prouder when we all can be called Americans.

When every young person in our community has the opportunity to have a life-long education and have other opportunities here in Iowa that let them raise their families with good paying jobs, the opportunity to start their own businesses and be leaders right here in Marshalltown.
So, I ask you all here today, "Stand with the Dreamers" for a better Marshalltown and a better Iowa.

As of January 23, more than 900 Iowans had signed an online petition urging DOT Director Trombino to reverse his decision on driver's licenses for immigrants with deferred status.

LATER UPDATE: Here is the Iowa DOT press release of January 23:

Iowa DOT Will Issue Driver's Licenses or Nonoperator IDs to Persons Granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Status

AMES, Iowa - Jan. 23, 2012 - The Iowa Department of Transportation has determined it can now issue driver's licenses or nonoperator identification (ID) cards to persons granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status based on changed guidance issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 18, 2013.

The new information announced late last Friday from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changes the definition of persons granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' changed guidance states persons granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status are "authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to be present in the United States and considered to be lawfully present during their deferred action" period.

Under Iowa Code ยงยง 321.182, 321.190 and 321.196, a driver's license or nonoperator ID card shall only be issued to a foreign national authorized to be present in the United Status. Therefore, based on this changed guidance from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Iowa DOT does now have the legal authority under current Iowa law to issue a driver's license or nonoperator ID card to a person granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status (indicated on Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document, category C33).

JANUARY 29 UPDATE: According to this feature by Kyle Munson for the Des Moines Register, heavy-hitting Iowa Republican donor Joe Crookham worked behind the scenes to reverse the Branstad administration's policy barring driver's licenses to immigrants with deferred status.

"I get disappointed by a nation of immigrants that doesn't put the time, energy and resources into an immigration policy," Crookham said last week from his office that commands a panoramic view of Oskaloosa's town square. "This is the only world these (DACA) kids know."

Crookham says that he was among a team of eight - including three immigration attorneys and close friend Tommy Franks, the retired Army general who led the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11 - who lobbied the governor and other politicians hard on the driver's license issue in the last month.

There was the usual grassroots uproar from pro-immigrant, non-governmental organizations in Iowa and across the nation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) released more explicit guidelines Jan. 18 clarifying that, yes, DACA immigrants should be considered lawfully present in the country. There was talk of a state law to fix the situation, with Branstad's support for such a legislative move, as well as a request for the DOT to review its stance. [...]

When Crookham weighs the issue with not his heart but his legal mind, he arrives at a similar answer: After letting the issue languish for so long, including a decade in which the Dream Act stalled in Congress as a political punching bag, the statute of limitations has run out, he says, on America's right to deport these so-called "Dreamers."

Denying them licenses became "essentially a profiling action on the part of the state."

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