DOT licensing policy change challenged

DOT will not issue licenses to immigrants under an Obama administration policy

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DES MOINES – Critics asked Iowa legislators Wednesday to overturn a decision by state Department of Transportation officials to cease issuing driver's licenses to immigrant young people who are eligible to work in this country under an Obama administration deferred prosecution policy.

DOT Director Paul Trombino III told members of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee that his agency concluded, based upon a legal review of a memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the deferred prosecution of illegal immigrants, that Iowa law does not authorize it to issue driver’s licenses or non-operator identification cards to young people who have been granted temporary status to work and live here.

Trombino said his agency plans to send out cancellation notices to applicants who were issued an Iowa driver’s license or ID card during a one-month period before the DOT policy modifications were made regarding President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Obama changed federal policy in June to let certain residents to apply for a temporary work permit if they were brought to the country as children.

“We made what I consider is a consistent decision,” the DOT director said. He said the federal government has extended a "prosecutorial discretion" to people not authorized to be in this country, but Iowa law does not grant the DOT legal authority to issue driver's licenses to people covered by the deferred action policy.

Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, said he was dismayed by the DOT’s action made public via the agency’s Web site rather than a proposed rule change that put “in limbo” the children of illegal immigrants who were brought to this country with no control over the matter and now have authorization to work but no longer can drive. He expected lawmakers would take action during the 2013 session that begins next week to address the issue.

“There will be draft legislation very shortly,” Vander Linden told reporters after Wednesday’s committee hearing. “The policy, I guess, is intended to weigh in on illegal immigration and I’m against illegal immigration, but I don’t see this furthering the cause in any way whatsoever. On the other hand, it’s potentially putting unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road and I just don’t understand the motivation from the Department of Transportation.

The GOP House member said he hoped the issue would get swift legislative action and he expected Gov. Terry Branstad to accept the change to reverse the DOT policy change. “If I understand the governor’s point correctly, he is saying in essence that his only problem is that his hands are tied by the law. If we fix that, then I can’t imagine why he would object,” Vander Linden said.

During the meeting, Rita Bettis of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa asked Trombino to reconsider the policy change and, absent that, for lawmakers to reverse the DOT action, while Hugh Espy, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement bluntly called on lawmakers to “throw out” a DOT decision that “has a clear anti-immigrant bias.” He also asked Trombino to “drop it.”

Vanessa Carolina del Valle Marcano Marin, 27, of Des Moines, an immigrant from Venezuela who has been granted a work visa, said the affected people are “my immigrant brothers and sisters” who have been allowed to work and stay in the United States. “Shame on the Iowa Department of Transportation for this anti-immigrant affront to crush the dreams of young, hard-working people who love this country and who have given their heart and soul to be here. Let them get their driver’s licenses,” she said.

However, committee co-leader Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, said she agreed with the DOT stance, which she viewed as an effort to follow Iowa law rather than trying to place barriers in people’s paths.

Application to Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which could benefit as many as 5,000 Iowa residents, is open to people younger than 30 who have lived continuously in the United States for at least five years, are enrolled in school and have a clean criminal record.

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