DOT to begin issuing driver's licenses to undocumented residents

Until Wednesday, the department had maintained that state law did not give it authority

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DES MOINES — The Iowa Department of Transportation will begin issuing driver’s licenses to foreign nationals authorized to be in the country under an Obama administration policy on illegal immigrants.

A change in a federal agency’s definition — not a change in the DOT’s interpretation of Iowa law — opened the door to the DOT issuing licenses and non-operator identification cards to the children of illegal immigrants who were brought into the country when they were 16 or younger.

“Our stance has not changed,” DOT Director Paul Trombino III told the Senate Transportation Commission Wednesday afternoon. “We have been consistent in our understanding of Iowa Code.”

Until Wednesday, the department had maintained that state law did not give it authority to issue driver’s licenses to young people who have been granted temporary status to live and work in Iowa under an Obama administration policy announced in June.

However, Trombino said his agency now believes that Iowa law permits issuing driver’s licenses and non-operator identification cards based on a change of a definition by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The new definition “basically changed the guidance that they had out there,” Trombino said Wednesday, “and when you look at the guidance, it conforms with what we’ve always said is that we’re executing Iowa law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa welcomed the change.

“We’re thrilled,” ACLU-Iowa attorney Rita Bettis said. “We think that this decision shows leadership on the part of the governor’s office not only in keeping the state welcoming, but also in maintaining public safety and recognizing the contributions that these youngsters make to our communities every day.”

Not everyone was as pleased.

Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, told Radio Iowa he plans to file a lawsuit to block the Obama policy.

“Some were brought here by their parents without having any say about it or any knowledge. That’s true and we have sympathy for them,” King said. “But all of us have been affected by the decisions of our parents — positive or negative — and we have to live with that.”

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