While some considered President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a success others were concerned about what it meant for the day to day lives of the undocumented youth who benefited from the ability to live and work in the United States legally, albeit temporarily. DACA began in August of last year as per a memo from the Department of Homeland Security. It grants a temporary two year relief from deportation to undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children who meet very specific criteria.
The answer is that it depends on what state you live in. There are a number of grassroots and legal battles taking place over the right of DACA recipients to receive access to health care and driver’s licenses. One most recent battle yielded what some are considering a victory.
On February 1, 2013, the Michigan Secretary of State announced that the department will begin issuing driver’s licenses and state ID cards to immigrants approved under DACA. This comes after the department was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and the National Immigration Law Center on behalf of young immigrants and the United States and after the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) updated its DACA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to make clear that those who are approved for DACA are lawfully present in the U.S.
Prior to this, the Michigan Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, denied that they had the ability to issue licenses or state ID cards to DACA recipients because the federal government had not stated outright that DACA status equals being here legally. The Secretary of State also raised the specter of voter fraud in it’s initial decision to deny DACA DREAMers official identification, an issue that will easily be handled by the ids and licenses being time limited.
Tanya Broder, senior attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement: “Michigan reached a decision that is legally and morally sound. Their decision provides DREAMers with deferred action the opportunity to contribute more fully to their communities and to their families. Arizona and Nebraska, which continue to deny driver’s licenses to DREAMers, should take note: they are among a dwindling number of states that stand on the wrong side of history and the law.”
The ACLU, NILC and other partners have also filed a lawsuit against Arizona’s unlawful policy prohibiting youth from getting driver’s licenses. While the vast majority of states are issuing licenses to DREAMers, Arizona and Nebraska have barred DACA recipients from obtaining licenses. In addition to Michigan, Iowa recently agreed that DACA recipients are eligible for licenses, and Illinois made licenses available to all residents regardless of immigration status. The Attorney General of North Carolina has also clarified that DACA recipients are eligible for driver’s licenses, but DMV officials in that state have yet to confirm that they will be making licenses available.
An estimated 1.76 million youth in the United States are eligible for the DACA program, including about 15,000 in Michigan. But the actual number of young people who are being granted this status is much less. A few weeks after DACA was announced, the Obama administration issued policy changes excluding DACA recipients from federal health insurance programs, proving that this temporary band-aid still keeps many undocumented in a state of limbo with potentially devastating effects on their health as this bar will keep many uninsured.
As the debate about immigration reform continues, what cannot be ignored is what current policy is. State by state lawsuits may help a handful of undocumented be less afraid but the overwhelming majority still remain in the shadows.