Michigan will begin issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants who qualify for delayed deportation under federal law.
The state had previously said it would bar all undocumented immigrants from receiving licenses, including veterans, students and recent college and high school graduates who have been granted two years to work in the U.S. under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. But on Friday (February 1), Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced a reversal of that position after further review of the federal program.
“Michigan will only issue driver's licenses to individuals who are here legally,” Johnson said. “The feds now say they consider these young people to be lawfully present while they participate in the DACA program, so we are required to issue driver's licenses and identification cards. I will continue to follow the law.”
The decision came two weeks after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued further guidance on the policy, posting a document on its website.
About 15,000 people qualify for the federal program in Michigan, a fraction of the 1.76 million nationally who are eligible.
Immigrant rights group cheered the announcement, saying that allowing immigrants to legally drive to work and school will help them contribute to society. Supporters also argue it increases road safety by keeping unlicensed and uninsured drivers off the road – those who haven't had eye or road tests.
“Today's announcement is a tremendous victory for the thousands of young people who may not have been born here, however have only known this country to be home,” Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement.
Michigan had been among several states, including Arizona, North Carolina and Nebraska, who said they would not grant licenses to deferred action immigrants, arguing they are not legal residents of the U.S.
That list had included Iowa, but it reversed its position late last month. Meanwhile, the North Carolina Attorney general recently clarified that the group is eligible under state law. The state is now reviewing the policy.