February 5, 2016

Key Republicans question DOT decision on “Dreamers”

Two key Republican legislators are objecting to the Iowa DOT’s decision to deny drivers licenses to the children of illegal immigrants who’ve lived here most of their lives, but aren’t citizens.

Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa, says it makes no sense that these young people now have legal authorization to remain in the U.S., but not to drive.

“The policy is, I guess, intended to weigh in on illegal immigration and I’m against illegal immigration as well, but I don’t see this furthering the cause in any way whatsoever,” Vander Linden says. “On the other hand, it’s potentially putting unlicensed, uninsured drivers on the road and I don’t understand the motivation from the Department of Transportation.”

President Obama issued an executive order this summer so the federal government would start giving “deferred action status” to young people who were brought into the U.S. as children, so they aren’t subject to deportation. Vander Linden says if they’re authorized to work, go to school or be in the military, they should be able to drive.

“I think these people who came here as children had no control over the matter,” Vander Linden says. “It’s like your parents decide to rob a bank and they take you in with them and somehow or other the kid is guilty of bank robbery. No, the kid didn’t make the decision. He was incapable of making a decision — and they’re here.”

Representative Vander Linden pressed DOT director Paul Trombino on the issue during a legislative committee meeting today (Wednesday), but Trombino maintains that under existing state law his agency can’t grant licenses to those kids.

“You know, we have to implement what’s in Iowa Code and I think for the legislature, they have the right to amend, appropriately, that act,” Trombino said.

Vander Linden asked: “But would you support legislation to change this?”

Trombino replied: “I think that’s really a decision for the legislature.”

Trombino admits that until late December the DOT did issue licenses to some young people who had obtained a valid federal work permit with their “deferred action status,” but his agency is going to send out notices that those licenses are invalid. Representative Dave Heaton of Mount Pleasant is another Republican who questions the DOT decision.

“These people are temporarily authorized to be here,” Heaton said. “…That being the case, I believe these people should be open to receiving a driver’s license here in the state.”

The issue was debated during a meeting of the legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee. Members of the public were given a chance to speak. While 27-year-old Vanessa Marcano of Des Moines holds a work visa and can get a driver’s license, she spoke on behalf of the children of illegal immigrants who cannot.

“Shame on the Iowa Department of Transportation for this anti-immigration 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,” Marcano said, using her hand to both wipe her tears and to pound on the table.

One Republican on the committee suggested the fault was President Obama’s for creating the new “deferred action status” for the children of illegal immigrants. Another Republican, Representative Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn, spoke directly to the critics who testified against the DOT decision.

“I just want to say we’re not trying to throw barriers in front of anybody,” Pettengill said. “We’re just trying to follow the rules.”

Representative Vander Linden plans to file a bill in the legislature that would reverse the DOT’s decision and grant drivers licenses to the children of illegal immigrants who earn “deferred action status.” The young people must prove they’ve gone to school, stayed out of trouble with the law and either plan to go to college, work or enter the military before they’re granted “deferred action status.”  Those are the same components that were in a proposed “Dream Act” and, while it failed to win congressional approval, some now refer to this class of young people as “Dreamers.”

Listen to today’s committee meeting: DREAMAct (runs 63 minutes)

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