LANSING (AP) – Michigan’s secretary of state reversed course Friday and said her agency will issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, changing her mind after the Obama administration clarified the issue.
The decision by Republican Ruth Johnson could affect 10,000 to 15,000 young immigrants in the state.
President Barack Obama, who last June announced a policy letting some illegal immigrants apply for temporary work permits if they were brought to the country as children, on Jan. 18 cleared up remaining concerns that a small number of states – including Michigan – had about their legal status.
“The feds now say they consider these young people to be lawfully present while they participate in the … program, so we are required to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards,” Johnson said in a statement. “I will continue to follow the law.”
She had come under pressure from civil liberties and immigrants’ rights groups who said many other states were issuing licenses. A coalition filed a federal lawsuit in December asking a judge to declare that those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were eligible for licenses.
Iowa had a similar change of heart last week. Arizona and Nebraska continue to prohibit the affected immigrants from having licenses, while North Carolina officials have not confirmed if they will be making licenses available, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates.
In a statement, ACLU of Michigan attorney Miriam Aukerman said Johnson’s decision is a victory for young people who have “only known this country to be home.”
Johnson said young immigrants can apply for driver’s licenses and IDs starting Feb. 19. The cards will expire on the date their legal presence expires.
The Obama administration’s program could expand the rights of nearly 1 million young illegal immigrants in the first year by giving them work permits, though they would not obtain legal residency here or a path to citizenship. It protects them from deportation for two years, and the time period can be extended.
To be eligible for the federal program, immigrants must prove they arrived in the United States before they turned 16, are 30 or younger, have been living in the country at least five years and are in school, have graduated or served in the military. They cannot have a conviction for certain crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat.
“We look forward to dismissing our lawsuit and turning the page to a more welcoming and inclusive Michigan,” Aukerman said.
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