President Barack Obama's new immigration program will mean some undocumented immigrants will be granted driver's licenses -- and some will not, depending on where they live. It's the first sign that states will differ dramatically in their implementation of the President's program.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) told reporters Friday that it will grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants who get an “employment authorization document" under Obama's program.
Days before, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits -- such as welfare and in-state tuition -- to undocumented immigrants under the President's program. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman issued a statement Friday saying the state will also continue to deny driver's licenses and public benefits to undocumented immigrants.
The purpose of Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is to allow immigrants who are under 30 and came to the U.S. when they were under 16 to be able to attain work permits and avoid deportation.
But immigration activists say that driving is an essential part of being able to work. This is especially true for farmworkers who travel far following crops, Diana Tellefson Torres of the United Farm Workers Foundation told the Bay Area News Group.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and others have said for some time that issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants would increase public safety because licensed drivers are required to pass a driving test and to have auto insurance.
There is an unlicensed driver behind the wheel in about one out of every five fatal crashes nation-wide, and these crashes resulted in 21,049 deaths from 2007 to 2009, according to AAA. However, it is unknown how many of these drivers were undocumented; a large number of them were legal residents who had suspended or revoked licenses.
According to LAPD Chief Beck, drivers who are unlicensed, and therefore uninsured, may also be involved in disproportionately more hit-and-run collisions. In California in 2010, a total of 14,735 hit-and-run collisions left 19,009 injured and 147 dead, according to the California Highway Patrol.
A 1993 law in California prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses. Still, many drive away, risking car impounds, expensive penalties, criminal charges and even deportation.
California Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) is expected to introduce a bill this week that would grant driver's license to all undocumented immigrants in the state -- not just those who qualify under Obama's new program. Immigrant activists gathered for a news conference Thursday to call for the passage of the bill.
"The lack of licenses has created a criminalization of our people, of our community, and we say we've had enough," David Zid, of the Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC), told ABC.
"[We're] not just asking, but demanding, that Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature here in California, approve a driver's license for all people," Ron Gochez, also of SCIC, said.
However, opponents of issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants say it rewards breaking the law. “Not only is this wildly unpopular among the citizens, but it creates a national security risk,” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) told the San Diego Union Tribune.
“It is baffling that every time our laws become inconvenient for people who are here illegally, we create a new exemption,” he continued. “This pattern of pandering is a slap in the face to the law-abiding citizens and to the dedicated families and individuals who have waited for the opportunity to become Americans.”
Opponents say granting licenses to undocumented immigrants would be a national security risk because license holders can fly and enter federal buildings.
There are nearly 350,000 immigrants in California who qualify for the President's work permit program, which is more than in any other state, a representative of the Migration Policy Institute told the Los Angeles Times.
Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute expects a flurry of activity in state capitals this month as governors and lawmakers debate whether to follow California or Arizona's example on this issue, the Bay Area News Group reports.
10 things to know before applying for DACA:
Deferred action temporarily prevents deportation of an individual that resides in the United States without a lawful immigration status. It does not give or result in lawful status for the individual, and can be terminated or renewed at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Deferred action does not excuse any past or future period of unlawful presence, however, individuals whose requests are accepted will not increase their unlawful presence in the country while under the action. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a new directive introduced by the Obama Administration on June 15, 2012. The policy shift will allow individuals unlawfully brought into the U.S. as children, and who meet certain guidelines, to apply for two years of deferred action subject to renewal and termination at the discretion of the DHS. Once deferred action has been granted, individuals qualify to obtain work authorization in the United States if he or she can prove "an economic necessity for employment." Those applying must meet all specified guidelines, but decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. Source: USCIS
Individuals currently in removal proceedings, with final orders for removal or with voluntary departure orders, qualify as long as they are not in immigration detention. Those who are in detention can request consideration for deferred action from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Anyone who meets ALL 7 guidelines outlined by the Obama Administration is eligible to request deferred action from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Applicants must: 1) Be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. You must be at least 15 years of age, with some exceptions.* 2) Have come into the U.S. before the age of 16. 3) Have lived in the U.S. permanently since June 15, 2012. Some travel acceptable.* 4) Have been physically in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and when applying for deferred action. 5) Have entered the U.S. without inspection before June 15, 2012 or have had their lawful immigration status expire since then. 6) Be currently enrolled in school at the time of the request. Also eligible are individuals who have graduated from high school, obtained a GED certificate, or are a honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Armed Forces. 7) Have not been convicted of a felony, "significant misdemeanor, 3 or more other misdemeanors," and/or are not seen as a threat to national security or public safety. *Check USCIS website for details.
Before applying: On their website, the USCIS presents applicants with tips to ways to avoid scams. In addition, the USCIS lists Before and After Filing Tips, help in finding accredited legal services to aid individuals file for deferred action, and examples of common scams to avoid. Applying: USCIS begins accepting applications on August 15, 2012. Any requests received prior to this date will be rejected. For consideration, individuals must submit the following (next slide) to the USCIS Lockbox.
The application consists of: 1) A completed and signed, Form I-821D, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival. Forms should include evidence to support that you meet all 7 guidelines of eligibility. 2) Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization 3) Form I-765WS, Worksheet (which establishes your economic need for employment) 4) Filing fees for Form I-765, which total to $465.
All applicants will undergo a background check. Once the forms and fee are received and deemed complete by the USCIS, applicants will receive a receipt notice. The applicant can complete an additional form if he or she would like to receive this notice electronically. Afterwards, the USCIS will send applicants notice of their mandatory appointment at an Application Support Center (ASC) for biometric services.
Fee waivers for the work authorization application and biometric collection cannot be requested, very limited exceptions exist.* Denial of deferred action does not mean applicants will be placed in removal proceedings, however under exceptional circumstances cases may be referred to ICE.* Deferred action can be extended past the initial two year period unless terminated. USCIS's determination may not be appealed, though cases can be reviewed in certain circumstances.* Applicants should NOT travel outside of the United States as of August 15, 2012. Doing so will make the applicant ineligible for deferred action consideration. *Check USCIS website for details.
According to The Immigration Policy Center, approximately 1.4 million immigrants in the United States are expected to meet the 7 guidelines of the deferred action initiative, now or in the future. An estimated 936,930 meet those requirements as of August 15, 2012. California (412,560), Texas (226,700), Florida (85,750), and New York (70,170) are the states with the highest number of expected beneficiaries. Click to view complete chart. Mexican immigrants make up almost 70% of those eligible.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee: "In order to process the millions of applications from illegal immigrants, the Obama administration will have to divert funding and other resources from processing legal immigration applications. This will lead to a backlog for legal immigrants who followed the rules, while allowing lawbreakers to skip to the front of the line." Adding that the policy shift is an "open invitation for fraud" during the application process. The directive is expected to cost $585 million. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in an interview with CBS News: "With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is."