By giving certain illegal aliens executive amnesty, the Obama Administration forced states to decide whether such persons would be eligible for state benefits such as driver’s licenses and taxpayer-subsidized in-state tuition. Some states have made their decisions but more debate, especially in state legislatures, is expected in 2013.
On Aug. 15, 2012, the Obama Administration initiated its Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives qualifying illegal aliens under the age of 31 a two-year stay of deportation and a work permit.
On that day, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order re-affirming that people without legal presence, including DACA recipients, are not eligible for driver’s licenses and other public benefits under state law. As her press aide noted, "What President Obama has done confers neither lawful status nor authorized presence. All they've done is defer these individuals' prosecution and deportation…It's up to states to try to do all they can to enforce their existing laws. "
Shortly thereafter, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the executive amnesty would not qualify illegal aliens for state benefits. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and the Iowa Dept. of Transportation also issued statements denying driver’s licenses to DACA recipients.
On the other hand, California last year enacted a law that gives driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. The motor vehicle departments in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin all approved licensure. And Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced DACA recipients would be eligible for taxpayer-subsidized in-state tuition. More recently, the Illinois legislature cleared a bill giving all illegal aliens residing in the state, including DACA recipients, access to driver’s licenses.
Two motor vehicle departments that initially approved licenses for DACA recipients are now re-evaluating those policies. Shortly after DACA took effect, a North Carolina DMV spokesperson said recipients could get driver's license as long as they had deferred action and a work authorization. But in September N.C. DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson said his agency is not certain the I-797 deferred action form and work permit qualify as proof of legal presence. “We're waiting until we get word from (USCIS), and then we will confer with the Attorney General. If it meets the North Carolina requirements, we will comply with the statute.” Robertson said. The EFE News Agency reports the matter had not yet been resolved.
There has been some confusion in Oregon as well. The Oregon Dept. of Transportation initially said DACA recipients could get licenses but then issued a timeout while the state Dept. of Justice developed a legal opinion. The problem is that Oregon administrative rules permit the issuance of licenses but the underlying law, which requires legal presence, does not. Still, some transportation department field offices are issuing licenses to DACA recipients in the interim.
Some state legislatures are beginning to debate the issues surrounding DACA. Yesterday, the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee held a hearing on the Secretary Johnson’s decision to deny licenses to DACA recipients. And pro-enforcement legislators in Massachusetts are calling for inquiries into Gov. Patrick’s decision to grant in-state tuition to DACA recipients.
Debate is expected to continue throughout 2013 as states grapple with the fallout from the Obama Administration’s executive amnesty.
Updated: Mon, May 15th 2017 @ 3:59pm EDT