December 22, 2014

“Dreamers” to get Iowa driver’s licenses

State officials have reversed course and will issue driver’s licenses to young immigrants who get “deferred action status” from the federal government.

In late December the Iowa DOT ruled the children of illegal immigrants who were brought into the country when they were 16 or younger are not eligible for licenses. According to Iowa DOT director Paul Trombino, Friday’s statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has clarified these young immigrants are “lawfully present.”

“It basically changed the guidance that they had out there,” Trombino said this afternoon, “and when you look at the guidance, it conforms with what we’ve always said is what we’re executing Iowa law and so, as a result, we’re going to issue drivers’ licenses to (people who have) deferred action for childhood arrivals.”

Trombino spoke with reporters late this afternoon, moments before his scheduled appearance before a state senate committee where he was to answer questions about this topic.

“Our role is to execute Iowa law and I advocate we consistently did that,” Trombino said. “We have not changed. The federal government changed and their role is immigration and they define immigration law and policy and that changed last week, Friday. Around 3:30 in the afternoon was when I was made aware of it.”

Last week the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa had called on Governor Branstad to make this reversal and this afternoon Rita Bettis, the group’s staff attorney, was quick to praise the decision.

“We’re thrilled,” she told reporters at the statehouse. “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.”

Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, said the DOT’s decision is the right one.

“I think it will offer a great deal of hope to those young ‘Dreamers’ that just want their license and want the freedom to be able to live and to get to work and to school and other things in the state,” McCoy said just before going into a Senate Transportation Committee meeting this afternoon.

People under the age of 30 who were illegally brought into the country when they were 16 or younger are often called “Dreamers” as a bill in congress would have granted the group citizenship. These “Dreamers” currently can get “deferred action status” from the federal government.

Iowa Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, plans to file a lawsuit to block the Obama Administration’s move to grant a form of legal status to this group of illegal immigrants.

“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 during an interview with Radio Iowa. “But all of us have been affected by the decisions of our parents — positive or negative — and we have to live with that.”

King objects to any effort to let the “Dreamers” pay cheaper in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities.

About 40 of these young people have Iowa drivers’ licenses that were issued before the DOT’s late December decision. Trombino told legislators earlier this month his agency would be sending letters, notifying those folks their licenses were invalid, but those letters didn’t go out.

(This story was updated at 5:01 p.m. with additional information)