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Victory! Iowa Lets the DREAMers Drive!

Dulce Matuz
Dulce Matuz
Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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January 25, 2013

This week the Iowa Department of Transportation announced that young immigrants who came to the country as children—or “DREAMers”—will be eligible for driver’s licenses—reversing the state’s decision a month ago to ban them from the roads. The decision affects an estimated 5,000 DREAMers benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program, which permits certain young immigrants to remain in the country and apply for work permits on a two-year, renewable basis.

Iowa officials relied on new guidance issued by the federal government confirming that DACA recipients are legally authorized to be present in the country during the two-year period. This guidance matters because many states limit driver’s licenses to immigrants who can show they are “authorized” or “legally present” in the country. The guidance makes clear that the federal government has permitted DACA recipients to stay in the United States. Thus, as Iowa officials recognized, states have no business denying them driver’s licenses on the grounds that they somehow aren’t allowed to be here.

Iowa joins the overwhelming majority of states, which have recognized the significance of the DACA program and decided to let the DREAMers drive. To date, only a small minority of states—Arizona, Michigan, and Nebraska—have chosen the opposite path, opting to marginalize, rather than welcome, its immigrant youth.

As detailed in our lawsuits in Arizona and Michigan, these policies impose heavy restrictions on tens of thousands of DREAMers. As our client in Michigan, Javier Contreras, explains, a drivers’ license is a prerequisite for “a normal American life.” Javier, a national honors student who will graduate from high school this spring, needs to drive in order to get to college, to work and support himself and his family, and to live his American dream. We need to support individuals like Javier and the thousands of other talented young immigrants who have grown up in this country and want to contribute to their communities—and not make it impossible to go about their daily lives.

Check out this video, courtesy of ABC Univision.

We hope that the remaining states with driver’s license bans will follow Iowa’s lead and stop discriminating against our immigrant youth. But either way, the ACLU stands ready to defend the rights of DREAMers everywhere.

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