Michigan’s denial of driver’s licenses to DACA recipients may hurt state

Michigan’s Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s recent decision to deny driver’s licenses to those with deferred deportation status will greatly detriment the state, according to immigration experts. Jose Franco, founder of advocacy group One Michigan, states that “Michigan is losing population…This policy the Secretary of State introduced will not help bring back people.”

This is already happening, according to immigration attorney Susan Reed.  “I can tell you my first approved deferred deportation client has voted with her feet and decided to move to Texas,” says Reed. “She lived in Michigan since she was five and has a health sciences degree; so she was someone ready to contribute to her state,” adds Reed.  ”But she was not willing to start her new life with this degree of uncertainty,” the attorney says.

“It’s very disappointing, to be allowed to work legally, but not be legally allowed to drive,” says Franco.  “Here in Michigan, we do not have a reliable transportation system, and for the young people I know trying to get to school and work, it is a real problem,” Franco states.

Secretary of State Johnson has argued that deferred deportation does not grant legal status to an undocumented Dreamer.  “Michigan law requires legal presence, that someone be here legally,” said Johnson’s spokesperson, Gisgie Gendrau, to the Detroit Free Press.  “The federal government has said that DACA does not grant legal status, so we can’t issue a driver’s license or state ID to DACA participants,” says Gendrau. “We rely on the feds to determine whether someone is here legally or not – we’re just following their direction,” the Secretary of State’s spokesperson adds.

But Susan Reed, supervising attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, says she thinks the federal government has given pretty clear guidance on who can legally apply for a driver’s license through the government’s Real ID law, which sets federal standards for driver’s licenses.  “Under Real ID, which was passed by Congress, the federal government has specifically said those with deferred action status can qualify for a driver’s license,” Reed says.  “I’m willing to accept the Secretary of State’s indication that they have made this decision out of uncertainty, but I think it’s over-caution that will negatively impact a very deserving group of people,” she adds.

Reed adds that in Michigan, 90 percent of people drive to work.  “I’m hearing from young immigrants that not being allowed to drive does not allow them to make use of the deferred action opportunity, and they are terrified of taking a risk and driving without a license,” Reed says.  “It takes the wind out of their sails,” she adds.

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