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Standing with DREAMers – from Driver’s Licenses to Immigration Reform

Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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June 17, 2013

One year ago, the immigrant youth movement won the most important immigrants’ rights victory in recent memory: the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children—or Dreamers—the ability to live and work in the country legally. As of this May, about 365,000 young immigrants have been granted DACA, and are working hard, going to school, and giving back to their communities—a preview of the benefits all of us stand to gain should Congress pass immigration reform this year.

But for now, DREAMers are still fighting battles against the barriers that prevent them from living life on equal terms to all other Americans. DREAMers, the ACLU, and allies have led the charge against discriminatory policies that would deny DREAMers the basic privilege of a driver’s license—something that almost everyone needs to get through daily life.

Take Javier Contreras, our plaintiff in our lawsuit against Michigan‘s driver’s license ban. Javier came to the United States from Mexico when he was four years old. Today, Javier is a 17 year-old senior and honor roll student at the Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was elected homecoming king and plans to pursue a career in mechanical engineering or computer science. Michigan’s ban would have severely limited Javier’s opportunities in his home state, preventing him from attending the college of his choice and obtaining a decent job. But because of our lawsuit, and organizing by DREAMers like Javier, Michigan changed course and decided to let DREAMers drive.

Happily, today, the overwhelming majority of states have deemed DACA grantees eligible for driver’s licenses. Indeed, only two states—Arizona and Nebraska, where the ACLU has filed suit—have stuck to their discriminatory policies. And even better, more and more states are giving driver’s licenses to all their residents, regardless of immigration status. These states recognize that it’s in everybody’s interest to make sure that all drivers are licensed, as doing so promotes public safety and reduces insurance costs. More broadly, these laws show us that the tide is turning, as states adopt policies that welcome, rather than marginalize, immigrant communities.

DREAMers and their allies will not rest until immigrant youth and their families are afforded the opportunities to live, work, and thrive that we all deserve. From driver’s licenses to comprehensive immigration reform, the ACLU is proud to stand with DREAMers in the fight for their lives.

This post is part of a series on the first anniversary of the Obama Administration announcing DACA.

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