OK to work but not to drive

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 9 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:47 am in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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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 wonít issue driverís 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 isnít authorized by any federal law with jurisdiction over state licensing procedures. ďAs we reviewed Iowa Code, we determined that deferred status doesnít give illegal immigrants legal status,Ē 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 wonít 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 doesnít 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. Itís also telling of the nationís 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, couldnít 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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