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States differ on driver’s licenses for immigrants

For immigrants who are undocumented, access to certain things that citizens take for granted can depend a lot on which state they live in. One of those, as we have discussed before in this blog, is the ability to obtain financial attend for a college education.

But there is another basic privilege that is important to all immigrants, regardless of their education plans or job status. That privilege is the ability to get a driver’s license.

Here, too, states vary markedly in how they take account of immigration status. In response to President Obama’s Deferred Action policy, about 30 states have begun granting driver’s licenses to young immigrants who are participating in the program. Other states have refused to do so on the grounds that Deferred Action does not actually confer legal status in the U.S.

The situation is also made more complicated by a federal law called the Real ID law. Passed in 2005, this law was intended to help prevent terrorism by creating a national database for driver’s licenses. The Real ID law includes people with Deferred Action status among other groups of noncitizens who are eligible to obtain temporary driver’s licenses.

The upshot of all this is that there is a great deal of uncertainty about immigrants’ eligibility for driver’s licenses. In part, this is because of the unclear impact of federal law, particularly Real ID and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

But the uncertainty also has to do with differences in state laws. Issuing driver’s licenses is a state, not a federal, responsibility. The Real ID law did not really change that basic feature of federalism.

Of course, even if a state is prepared to issue a driver’s license to a Deferred Action participant, there is still one more challenge. That is the challenge of actually passing a driver’s license test.

Source: “Some States Put Brakes On Driver’s Licenses For Illegal Immigrants,” MPR News, Craig LeMoult, 1-16-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in Minnesota. To learn more about our practice, please visit our deferred action page.

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