California Poised to Grant Driver’s Licenses to Young Illegal Immigrants

Jim Sanders, The Sacramento Bee, August 22, 2012

California is on the verge of allowing hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses for the first time in nearly two decades.

The key question is how to do it.

The issue of granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants has raged in the Legislature for much of the past decade, without resolution, but fighting is largely moot now due to a new federal policy.

President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals gives a select group of undocumented immigrants the right to live and work in the United States for two years without fear of deportation.

California is laying the groundwork for extending the privilege to driving, too, for an estimated 400,000 immigrants.

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The governor, on the campaign trail, had spoken against changing state law to allow all undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Deferred Action applies to undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 and 31, who were brought to America before the age of 16 and have no criminal record. Participants also must be either high school students or graduates who have lived in the United States continuously for five years.

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Republican lawmakers turned thumbs down Wednesday on giving such a public benefit to anyone who entered the country illegally, whether they did so as children or not.

“If they’re not here legally, they shouldn’t get driver’s licenses under any circumstances,” said Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville.

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Though California’s DMV points to the federal Deferred Action program as rationale for lifting its current ban on such licenses, Arizona has demonstrated that states’ hands are not tied in the matter.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order this month directing state agencies not to issue driver’s licenses or other public benefits to Deferred Action participants.

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