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Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

Though there hasn't been much talk of Congress taking up immigration reform this month, there have been a couple of interesting developments that tangentially involve immigration. On the one hand, the California legislature recently passed a watershed bill (28-8 in the Senate and 55-19 in the Assembly) that will allow the State to grant driver licenses to illegal/undocumented immigrants. Governor Jerry Brown has indicated that he will sign the bill, which by some estimates can potentially affect 1.4 million people. However, these driver licenses will apparently not be identical to regular driver licenses and will bear some sort of indication that identifies and distinguishes the holder as an individual who is not lawfully here. Moreover, according to some newspaper accounts, the license will explicitly state that it cannot be used as proof of eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits. So while this bill is a tremendous step forward in recognizing and regulating the needs of the undocumented population to drive, it obviously bears a darker side that could potentially expose those who it intends to benefit to discrimination.

On the other hand, this bill and its impending passage into law stand as a stark foil to what is going on in Arizona, which has taken its ultra-conservative stance against immigration to a higher level. Just this week, the state apparently announced a policy change in recent court pleadings that will further tighten and restrict the granting of driver licenses. As it stands, Arizona already is one of only two states that is not granting driver licenses to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival ("DACA") recipients. (Fortunately, our great state of New Jersey is not the other one.) DACA grantees are those young adults who entered the country before the age of sixteen and who have remained in the country since 2007 and have graduated from high school. Under the DACA program, these individuals qualify for two-year protection from removal and may apply for work authorization. Even though close to 16,000 of these individuals already granted DACA status in Arizona cannot be removed, they also cannot apply for and receive a driver license. Some estimate that close to 80,000 young adults eligible for DACA live in Arizona. The State has now extended that ban to include apparently other people granted deferred status and deferred enforced departure ("DED"), not just those who are DACA grantees. For example, victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation will no longer qualify to receive a driver license in Arizona notwithstanding their protected status under our federal immigration laws. Needless to say, this measure is extremely restrictionist and if not stricken down, will impair and hamper the ability of the immigrant population in Arizona, authorized by our federal government to be here, to live and work there. Hopefully, the Courts will make the right decision.

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