Recently, some Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles locations have been denying driver’s licenses to immigrants who have qualified for deferred action. Ohio should not deny deferred action immigrants a license to drive because those immigrants are here legally.
In June 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided it would hold off on deporting immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children. The program is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Those who qualify for deferred action are considered to be “lawfully present” in this country for at least two years and are eligible to receive authorization to work in the U.S. if they can demonstrate economic necessity. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the government agency charged with carrying out the federal government’s immigration laws states on their website,
“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.”
Deferred action immigrants do not, however, receive “lawful status” which is a higher status that grants certain rights to people who qualify under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a law passed by Congress.
Being in limbo between “lawfully present” but not having “lawful status” has created controversy as to whether deferred action immigrants can still be labeled “illegal immigrants.” Some Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle (BMV) offices have denied deferred action immigrants a driver’s license on grounds that these immigrants are “illegal.”
According to the Ohio law, in order to obtain a driver’s license, one must prove (1) a legal name; (2) date of birth; (3) Social Security Number (SSN), if ever assigned; (4) U.S. citizenship OR U.S. legal presence; and (5) a resident street address in Ohio. [Emphasis added.] Ohio law does not require full lawful status to obtain a driver’s license.
Deferred action immigrants receive documentation from USCIS that indicate they qualify for deferred action. To see an example of such a letter, click here. Although the letter does not specifically state they have legal presence, USCIS has stated that deferred action immigrants have lawful presence.
Another common concern among opponents of granting driver’s licenses to deferred action immigrants is that these immigrants will be able to vote illegally if they have a driver’s license. This too is simply untrue. First, one does not need to present an Ohio driver’s license to register to vote in Ohio. Ohio’s registration application requires the applicant to certify that he or she is a U.S. citizen and asks for either a driver’s license number, social security number, or one may even show a utility bill or bank statement with an address on it. So, issuing someone a driver’s license does not itself allow someone who is fraudulently claiming citizenship to vote illegally. If someone sets out to vote illegally in Ohio, they just need to lie about their citizenship on the application for registration and to present a utility bill. This is just another reason why Ohio should not deny deferred action immigrants a license to drive.