By The Gazette Editorial Board
Last June, President Obama issued a policy allowing certain illegal immigrants brought to this country as children an opportunity to stay and work here. The conditions include having lived at least five years continuously in the United States, a clean criminal record and some education requirements. Up to 5,000 Iowa residents are potentially eligible for the two-year work permit.
In late December, the Iowa Department of Transportation announced it won’t issue driver’s license to anyone who qualifies through the federal deferred-prosecution policy. DOT Director Paul Trombino said his agency does not have the authority to issue the licenses to such residents because it isn’t authorized by any federal law with jurisdiction over state licensing procedures. “As we reviewed Iowa Code, we determined that deferred status doesn’t give illegal immigrants legal status,” he said.
This state-federal clash, also playing out in Michigan and Arizona, is troubling. Young illegal immigrants who qualify for a permit can hold a job in Iowa but won’t be able to drive to work. That could make it more difficult to get or keep jobs and be taxpayers.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa believes the DOT misinterpreted current Iowa law and plans a legal challenge if the DOT doesn’t reconsider.
So who is correct?
The DOT appears to be following at least the letter of the law. Yet its decision strikes us as a narrow interpretation that penalizes young immigrants brought here illegally as children through no fault of their own who want to be responsible, productive workers. It’s also telling of the nation’s still-muddled immigration policy.
Iowa legislative leaders have signaled little interest in resolving this issue. But instead of letting it drag out in the courts, couldn’t lawmakers issue a temporary waiver? That would seem more in line with the spirit of the work permit.
Meanwhile, Congress could help prevent these problems by getting its immigration act together.
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