DOT license policy for youth granted deferred action is shortsighted

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 3 2013 | 11:32 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:31 am in
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The Des Moines Register

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A boy is brought to the United States by his parents. He is undocumented but is allowed to attend school. He makes his way through childhood, builds friendships and thinks himself no different than other kids in his town. He knows this is home.

Then he becomes a teenager. He wants to get a job at the mall but has no Social Security card. His friends are getting driver’s licenses, but that isn’t an option for undocumented immigrants. Other kids talk about going to college, but this boy isn’t eligible for federal financial aid. And now he’s old enough to worry about the government deporting him to a country where he has no family or friends.

This is how things work in the United States. This country’s immigration policies are painfully broken, and Congress has done nothing to fix them.

So last June, President Obama unveiled a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Young people with no criminal record who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 will not be deported and are allowed to legally work here.

The program is no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform. But the administration’s program makes sense as a stop-gap measure.

Nonetheless, Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Steve King, blasted Obama’s move as an overreach of executive authority. On Thursday, the Iowa Department of Transportation said it would not issue driver’s licenses or state identification cards to those granted deferred action. Iowa law doesn’t allow the state to do so, the DOT says.

Of course, the DOT could have interpreted the law the way the American Civil Liberties Union and other states have done and grant licenses or ID cards to these people. The DOT could have continued to interpret the law as it did a few months ago when it issued a license to a young Denison man with deferred action status.

Then, those allowed to legally remain in this country under the Obama policy would be able to legally drive to work or school in Iowa. They would be required to pass a test, pay a licensing fee and purchase insurance to be on the road. The roads would be safer as a result.

The truth is all undocumented immigrants should be able to obtain a driver’s license. Members of Branstad’s own party know it makes sense. “We’re not talking about whether these people are legal or illegal. They’re here. They’re driving,” said former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar when talking recently about legislation in that state. “We want to make the highway safe. Most Republicans I know want safe highways.”

Maybe that common sense will resonate with Iowa’s governor. Maybe it will resonate with Iowa lawmakers who should clarify the law to ensure all undocumented immigrants can obtain a driver’s license.

Thousands of young people in Iowa are eligible for deferred action. The federal government recognized they were brought here as children through no decision of their own. They have grown up, gone to school and started families in a country they consider their own. Obama recognized they should be treated humanely. Iowa’s leaders should do the same.

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