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Victory! Michigan Lets the DREAMers Drive!

Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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February 1, 2013

Today Michigan announced that it will allow young immigrants who came to the country as children—or DREAMers—to apply for driver’s licenses, reversing the state’s previous decision to ban them from the roads. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in December challenging the prior policy. The announcement affects an estimated 15,000 DREAMers who stand to benefit from the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program.

Michigan’s decision is a huge victory for young immigrants like our plaintiff, Javier Contreras. 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, Michigan. He was elected homecoming king this year 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. Now Javier is free to pursue his dreams.

Check out this video of Javier, courtesy of ABC Univision.

Letting DREAMers drive not only benefits immigrants like Javier, but all Michiganders. Everyone has an interest in making sure that young drivers have passed the proper tests and are licensed to be on the road. Licensing promotes public safety and reduces insurance costs. And states have every incentive to adopt policies that welcome, rather than marginalize, immigrant communities.

Michigan’s decision is also important because it acknowledges that DACA recipients are federally authorized to be in the country. Like Michigan, many states limit driver’s licenses to immigrants who can show they are “authorized” or “legally present” in the United States. The federal government recently confirmed that DACA grantees are legally authorized to be in the country, and the overwhelming majority of states have deemed DACA grantees eligible for driver’s licenses. Today’s announcement reaffirms that states have no business denying someone like Javier a license on the theory that he somehow isn’t allowed to be here. Indeed, only two states—Arizona, where the ACLU has filed suit, and Nebraska—remain committed to these discriminatory restrictions.

Recently the North Carolina Attorney General clarified that DACA recipients are eligible for licenses under that state’s law. But North Carolina officials have yet to confirm that they will implement the Attorney General’s opinion. North Carolina should follow its own Attorney General and let the DREAMers drive.

We hope the few outlier states remaining will follow Michigan’s lead and stop discriminating against our immigrant youth. Either way, the ACLU stands ready to defend the rights of DREAMers everywhere.

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