Two months after the Obama administration began accepting applications for it’s deferred action program that allows undocumented youth to stay and work in the country, states have been debating whether to grant the beneficiaries driver’s licenses.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that those who are approved for the federal program may also qualify for certain state benefits, such as driver’s licenses. However, it is up to the states to decide whether or not they are eligible for such benefits.
Some states have already announced that they will give the deferred action recipients driving privileges. Other states have gone as far as denying them driver’s licenses.
In California, state legislators recently approved a bill that would allow 412,560 eligible undocumented youth who live in the state to use the federal work permits given to them under deferred action to apply for driver’s licenses. The bill is currently awaiting signature from Gov. Jerry Brown.
The Immigration Policy Center estimated that California has the largest population of potential deferred action beneficiaries followed by Texas (226,700), Florida (85,750), New York (70,170), Illinois (67,460) and Arizona (53,880).
The non-partisan organization also calculated that up to 1.4 million undocumented young immigrants could eventually benefit from the program and that currently 936,930 already qualify to apply for it. It also said that roughly 68 percent of them are from Mexico while 13 percent are from other countries in North and Central America. About 8 percent are from Asia, 7 percent from South America, 2 percent from Europe, and 2 percent from other parts of the world.
In Texas, the second state with the most potential beneficiaries, undocumented youth will be able to present their federal work permits to obtain driver’s licenses. The announcement came from the Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 21, a day after Gov. Rick Perry called the federal program “a slap in the face to the rule of law.”
New York, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina have similar policies as Texas. The states allow individuals who have employment authorization to get a driver’s license even if they don’t have a legal status. They have all said that dreamers who are granted deferred action will be allowed to get driver’s licenses.
Last month, Oregon and Georgia announced that they too would give these young immigrants driver’s licenses. The Immigration Policy Center estimates there are 16,600 potential dreamers who qualify for deferred action in Oregon, and some 38,500 in Georgia.
But some states have said they will deny state benefits, which include driver’s licenses, to deferred action recipients.
Arizona was the first state to announce it. On Aug. 15, the first day the federal government began accepting applications for the program, Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order directing state agencies to deny driver’s licenses to dreamers.
Arizona laws prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving taxpayer-funded public benefits, such as driver’s licenses and state identification cards. Brewer argued that because the deferred action program does not grant undocumented youth a legal status, the state is not obligated to give them driver’s licenses.
Other states, including Nebraska and Mississippi, followed Arizona’s lead. They too are denying driver’s licenses to deferred action beneficiaries.