What's going on with legalization and driver's licenses in Michigan?

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February 22, 2013

Recently, there has been a lot of conversation about possible changes in immigration and driver’s license laws. There also have been some actual changes that affect small groups of people. Unfortunately, some unclear reports in the media and some dishonest people have created confusion in our communities. 

• There is no new legalization program. President Obama and members of Congress have been talking a lot about ideas for change, but there are no new laws.

• President Obama announced a temporary program in June 2012 called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” or “DACA.” Some people call it the “DREAM Act” but that isn’t correct because the “DREAM Act” did not become law. DACA is just a temporary program. It provides temporary work authorization and temporary legal presence for people who came to the U.S. before their 16th birthdays and meet other requirements.

• The State of Michigan began accepting driver’s license applications on February 19, 2013, from people who have applied to Immigration for DACA and been approved. These people have valid “work permits.” The State of Michigan had previously said it would not give driver’s licenses to people with DACA.  The rules about driver’s licenses in Michigan did not change for anyone else. Everyone in Michigan still has to prove that they are “legally present” to get a driver’s license here. The only change is that Michigan is now considering people with DACA to be “legally present” because they actually are.

• In January, there was a small change in the way that some people who are applying for status through their U.S. citizen family members can have their cases processed. This change starts on March 4, 2013, and it means that some people will have to spend less time outside of the U.S. waiting for a decision on a “hardship waiver” application. We urge everyone who is applying for family members to get high-quality legal advice about the process. Also, everyone should know that when adult U.S. citizens apply for their undocumented parents, those parents are usually not eligible to apply for these kinds of waivers based on hardship to their adult U.S. citizen children. Parents may have to spend 10 years outside of the U.S. if they leave the country for visa processing.

• The best thing you can do to prepare for future changes in the law is to make sure everyone in your family has a valid passport from your home country that is valid for more than one year. You should also save all school and employment records and keep copies in a safe place. U.S. citizen children should get U.S. passports. It’s reasonable for attorneys to charge consultation fees, but we don’t recommend paying any fees to anyone who is promising future services that can only be provided if there is a change in the law.

How can I get real answers to my questions?

Contact one of the nonprofits authorized to provide assistance with immigration law listed in our Immigrant Service Provider Reference Guide linked here or contact us at (269) 492-7196 for information and referral services.

Secretary of State Begins Allowing DACA Driver's License Applications

February 19, 2013

As of February 19, 2013, the Michigan Secretary of State has updated its rules so that beneficiaries of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are eligible for driver's licenses and state ID cards.  The updated list of acceptable documents can be found here in English and here in Spanish.  Note that the "Legal Presence" column contains "Valid Unexpired Employment Authorization Card."  Previously, the list included an exception for Employment Authorization Documents for DACA holders.

In October 2012, the Michigan Secretary of State decided that Employment Authorization Documents from DACA holders were not acceptable documents for purposes of qualifying for driver's licenses and state ID cards.  This decision was made even though the Secretary of State accepted Employment Authorization Documents from every other non-citizen, including others who were granted Deferred Action by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Secretary of State reversal came after the department was sued by young immigrants affected by the Secretary of State's incorrect policy and after the Department of Homeland Security explained in more detail how non-citizens in Deferred Action status are considered legally present in the United States.  

Michigan Secretary of State Reverses DACA Driver's License Decision

On February 1, 2013, the Michigan Secretary of State announced that the department will begin issuing driver's licenses and state ID cards to immigrants approved under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.  This comes after the department was sued by the ACLU of Michigan on behalf of young immigrants - including One Michigan - affected by the incorrect policy.  The ACLU and One Michigan deserve much credit for standing up to the incorrect interpretation that the Department was relying on. 

See the Secretary of State's press release on our website here: http://michiganimmigrant.org/resources/library/secretary-state-reversal-daca-decision

USCIS Lawful Presence Explanation for DACA Should Result In Driver's Licenses

Updated January 18, 2013

Today USCIS updated its DACA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and explained that immigrants approved under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are lawfully present in the United States.  The new FAQ can be found here: http://goo.gl/Tztwc  The Michigan Secretary of State has repeatedly said that she is relying on the federal government for instruction on who is lawfully present for purposes of obtaining a Michigan driver's license or state identification.  Clarification has now been provided.

Some of the many examples of what the Secretary of State's office has said:

From October 18, 2012:

Pointing to that language, spokesman Fred Woodhams said the Secretary of State is taking direction from the federal government as to who is and is not legally in the country.

"Because the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program doesn't confer legal presence on its participants, we are not able to issue licenses or ID cards to DACA participants," Woodhams said in an email.




From December 19, 2012:

"Michigan law requires legal presence for customers to receive a driver's license or ID card, but the federal government has said that DACA does not grant legal status," Secretary of State spokeswoman Gisgie Gendreau said in an email.

"We rely on the federal government to tell us who is legally here in the United States and who is not. The feds have made clear that DACA participants are not."


USCIS clearly explains how DACA beneficiaries are lawfully present by virtue of having Deferred Action (from the first link above):

Q1: What is deferred action?


An individual who has received deferred action is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States, and is therefore considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect. [emphasis added]

Q7:  Is there any difference between “deferred action” and “deferred action for childhood arrivals” under this process?

A7:  Deferred action for childhood arrivals is one form of deferred action. The relief an individual receives pursuant to the deferred action for childhood arrivals process is identical for immigration purposes to the relief obtained by any person who receives deferred action as an act of prosecutorial discretion.

This clarification should be exactly what the Secretary of State has stated that it needs to follow Michigan law - which permits driver's licenses to applicants who provide proof of their "legal presence in the United States."

Litigation brought by individual plaintiffs and One Michigan, represented by the ACLU of Michigan, is pending in this matter.  For more information about that lawsuit and how today's announcement might affect it, visit http://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/one-michigan-v-ruth-johnson

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