Iowa DOT won't issue licenses to illegal immigrants covered by Obama deferred status policy

ACLU 'terribly disappointed' in decision; claims DOT misinterpreted Iowa law

UPDATE: A civil liberties organization is “terribly disappointed” in an Iowa Department of Transportation decision to cease issuing driver’s licenses to young illegal immigrants eligible to work in this country under an Obama administration deferred prosecution policy.

The department has issued at least one driver’s license and one non-operator’s ID since President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Obama changed federal policy in June to let certain illegal immigrants apply for a temporary work permit if they were brought to the country as children.

However, after reviewing the memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the deferred prosecution of illegal immigrants as it relates to Iowa law, the DOT concluded it did not have authority to issue those documents, DOT Director Paul Trombino III said.

Ben Stone of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa believes the DOT misinterpreted Iowa law. The ACLU and its allies will seek to reverse the decision through the courts and Iowa Legislature as well as ask DOT to reconsider.

It’s the ACLU Iowa’s contention that illegal immigrants who came to this country before they were 16 years old should be considered as lawful residents, Stone said.

Application to Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which could benefit as many as 5,000 Iowa residents, is open to illegal immigrants younger than 30 who have lived continuously in the U.S. for at least five years, be enrolled in school and have a clean criminal record.

It was announced ahead of the November presidential election in which Hispanic voters were expected to play a key role.

The policy “was not authorized by a federal law or regulation that expressed or claimed jurisdiction over state licensing procedures,” Trombino wrote in a letter to ACLU Iowa, which raised the issue in October.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s memorandum “has no jurisdiction over state licensing laws,” he wrote. Instead, Trombino called it “prosecutorial discretion” extended to people not authorized to be in this country.

Therefore, the DOT has no legal authority under current Iowa law to issue driver’s licenses to people covered by the deferred action policy, he wrote.

“That’s a state issue, and from a policy standpoint, we administer the policy made in the (Iowa) Capitol,” he said.

The DOT policy does not affect foreign nationals who are authorized to work in this country, Trombino said.

“In this case, as we reviewed Iowa Code, we determined that deferred status doesn’t give illegal immigrants legal status,” he said. “It’s just deferring any action.”

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.