Branstad administration punishing some immigrants for parents' actions

Iowa has a lot of strengths as a place to live, but good public transportation isn’t one of them. In most of our cities and towns, adults need to drive to get to work, school, or shops for necessities.

That’s going to be a lot more difficult for approximately 5,000 Iowa residents who were brought to this country as undocumented immigrants during childhood.  

On December 27, the Iowa Department of Transportation announced,

The Iowa Department of Transportation has determined 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, based on guidelines described by the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security’s memorandum issued June 15, 2012.  

The Iowa DOT understands 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. Rather, it is prosecutorial discretion extended in a blanket fashion to persons who are not lawfully authorized to be present in the United States.  

Under Iowa Code §§ 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 States. Therefore, the Iowa DOT does not 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).

Last June, President Barack Obama announced his administration’s new policy granting some undocumented immigrants temporary protection from deportation. The explicit goal of that policy was to allow those immigrants to live and work or go to school in the U.S. Most members of this group had no say in whether their families came to this country illegally. According to Iowa Public Radio,

In Iowa almost 5,000 young immigrants-mostly of Mexican descent-have been granted temporary deferred action by the Obama administration. This means they can stay in the country, but after this ruling from the DOT, they can’t drive or receive a state ID in Iowa.

National Public Radio’s Corey Dade reported that Michigan, Nebraska and Arizona are also denying driver’s licenses or non-operator identification to immigrants with deferred status. In contrast, 17 states including Wisconsin and Illinois do issue driver’s licenses to that group.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa will seek to overturn the Iowa DOT’s policy:

A Baffling Call: Denying Licenses to Young Immigrants Granted Deferred Status

The ACLU of Iowa was surprised and extremely disappointed that the Iowa Department of Transportation announced last week that it will not be issuing driver’s licenses to young immigrants brought here before age 16 and who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that allows them to legally be present in the U.S and provides work authorization for a renewable 2-year period.

The decision Thursday could affect the approximately 5,000 young Iowa immigrants who have been allowed by President Obama’s executive order to legally work and stay in the United States.

The DOT’s announcement came about two months after the ACLU of Iowa sent a letter to Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino, asking him to confirm that these “deferred action” recipients-sometimes referred to as DREAMers-would be eligible to apply for Iowa driver’s licenses and ID cards. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has left it up to the states to decide whether or not to allow deferred action recipients to apply for driver’s licenses and other state benefits.

Bettis, Legislative Director and Staff Sttorney for the ACLU of Iowa, wrote in the letter that these young “deferred action recipients” are eligible for the licenses when Iowa implements REAL ID-compliant DOT regulations in January. She noted that under the REAL ID Act of 2005, which requires states to verify an applicant’s legal status in the U.S. before issuing them driver’s licenses or ID cards, those who are approved for deferred action have a lawful status.

Iowa law provides for licensure of immigrants who are “authorized to be present,” but the DOT is denying that young DREAMers granted deferred action under DACA are authorized to be present-despite the fact that DACA confirms that recipients can stay for a renewable 2 year period, provides them with a Social Security Number, and employment authorization. “We think the DOT’s decision defies commonsense and a plain reading of the relevant laws and regulations,” said Bettis.

The ACLU and others have already filed lawsuits in Michigan and Arizona challenging decisions in those states to deny driver’s licenses to those allowed to work and stay in the country under the federal program.

Speaking to Radio Iowa, ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Ben Stone made a few other obvious points:

Stone says the state is messing with the lives of those in the group. “I think what we are encountering here is a state agency that is basically bending over backwards to find something in which to justify it’s conclusion. And frankly it’s nonsensical,” according to Stone.

“These people are not going to be deported, they are authorized to be here by the federal government. All of this is just semantic shenanigans.” One estimate says there are some five-thousand people impacted. Stone says it is a public safety issue.

“It makes no sense to have people who are here who are not going to be removed by the federal government, who are permitted to work, who have been issued papers to that affect. And yet the state of Iowa doesn’t seem to think that there is any obligation to provide them with the ability to lawfully obtain a license,” Stone says.

“And that results in our roads being occupied by people that have not been properly licensed, and that is not in the interest of public safety.” Stone says they will seek all legal means to get the DOT to change its mind and if that is not successful, will seek other ways to change the decision.

Stone didn’t say it, but it seems clear that Governor Terry Branstad is behind the Iowa DOT’s interpretation of the law. He has previously said he disagrees with letting undocumented immigrant children attend public schools or receive in-state tuition at Iowa universities. He also has exaggerated how much undocumented immigrants cost the state budget. I don’t recall Branstad publicly criticizing Obama’s executive order last summer like some of Iowa’s Congressional Republicans did.

Trombino told Radio Iowa that his department will not change this policy unless the Iowa legislature takes action. The Republican-controlled Iowa House would never approve a bill granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Senate Democrats aren’t eager to take on this issue either, judging from incoming Iowa Senate Judiciary Chair Rob Hogg’s comments last week. Hogg told the Des Moines Register,

“Advocates are obviously free to make the case if they think something should be done, and I will be open-minded and listen,” Hogg said. “I believe we ought to be welcoming, and it is pretty hard to blame the kids who are brought here, but this was not something that I had on my agenda.”

Very weak sauce from Hogg. Senate Democrats should recognize that this is a social and economic justice issue, as well as a matter of public safety. Who benefits from 5,000 young Iowa adults being unable to obtain a driver’s license?

An ACLU lawsuit looks like the only way to reverse this policy. I have no idea whether it would be likely to succeed in Iowa or federal courts.

Speaking of which, to my knowledge Representative Steve King still has not filed a federal lawsuit to challenge President Obama’s executive order on deferred deportations.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Ten demerits to Radio Iowa for using “illegals” in the headline and text of its two news stories on this issue. That usage should not be in any legitimate media outlet’s stylebook.

  • agree

    that TEB is the primary villain here decorated w/ weak sauce from Hogg. I can see Dems taking the Latino vote for granted, which is dumb given the good cop-bad cop routine already in play by IA-GOP.

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.