IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa will not issue driver’s licenses to young illegal immigrants who are eligible to work in the U.S. under an Obama administration program, transportation officials announced Thursday.
President Barack Obama announced a policy change in June that lets certain illegal immigrants apply for a temporary work permit if they were brought to the country as children.
But the Iowa Department of Transportation said state law does not allow it to issue driver’s licenses or non-operator identification cards to people who are not in the country legally, and the federal decision does not extend lawful status or a lawful immigration path to people who are granted “deferred action” status.
The Transportation Department cited two state laws that allow licenses only for citizens and foreign nationals who are authorized to be in the United States.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad believes state officials should follow the law, said his spokesman, Tim Albrecht.
“Should the Legislature wish to make changes, the governor will review their proposals and would carefully consider any legislation that arrived at his desk,” Albrecht said in an email Thursday.
The DOT’s statement came in response to an October letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which asked the state to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants who receive deferred action status.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said each state can decide whether to issue licenses or extend other benefits to young immigrants who qualify. Advocates for the immigrants say denying them licenses will lead to many unlicensed drivers.
Several Republican governors have said they will not issue driver’s licenses to immigrants who qualify, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. In August, Heineman announced that his state would continue to deny licenses, welfare benefits and other public assistance to illegal immigrants unless required by state law.
Obama’s program applies to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they turned 16 years old and who were 30 or younger as of June 15. To qualify, they also must have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years, be enrolled in school and have a clean criminal record.
Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants could benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which went into effect just months before the presidential election, in which the Hispanic vote played an important role.
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