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DACA Access to Driver's Licenses

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Last updated DECEMBER 2014  |  Download Adobe PDF icon

Access to Driver’s Licenses for Immigrant Youth Granted DACA

Immigrant youth granted deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have been able to obtain driver’s licenses in nearly every state.

Background: DACA

On June 15, 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that, under its administrative authority, it would grant deferred action to immigrant youth residing in the U.S. who meet specific criteria. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy permits individuals who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and who meet other age, education, continuous presence, and criminal history–related requirements to remain in the U.S. for a renewable two-year period and to apply for work authorization.

(The program will soon be expanded to make deferred action available to more people who came to the U.S. as children. Deferred action will also be available to certain parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Grants of deferred action will be issued for 3-year renewable periods. For more information, see www.nilc.org/relief.html.)

As of September 30, 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had accepted 702,485 initial DACA applications and 115,565 renewal applications, and had approved 610,375 initial applications and 22,480 renewals.

DACA Recipients Are Lawfully Present

Deferred action is a longstanding form of relief that is included specifically in the federal REAL ID Act as a lawful status that would permit the issuance of a federally recognized driver’s license, valid during the period of authorized stay in the U.S. In its “Frequently Asked Questions About Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (the version dated Jan. 18, 2013), USCIS confirmed that people granted deferred action under DACA are authorized by DHS to be present in the U.S. and are therefore considered to be lawfully present during the period of their deferred action grant.

States Grant Licenses to DACA Recipients

Because the rules governing eligibility for driver’s licenses vary by state, a grant of DACA does not provide access to a state driver’s license automatically. But otherwise-eligible DACA recipients who obtain an employment authorization document and a Social Security number have been able to obtain a license in almost every state.

The rules in most states either list deferred action specifically as meeting a lawful presence requirement or provide that an employment authorization document is acceptable to establish eligibility for a license. Like other driver’s license applicants, DACA recipients also must provide proof of identity and age, and also meet the state residence requirements, in order to obtain a license. (For an earlier review of the state laws affecting access to driver’s licenses for DACA recipients, see www.nilc.org/dacadriverslicenses.html.)

Arizona and Nebraska

Although a few states initially announced that they would ignore or alter their own rules in order to deny licenses to these youth, only two states, Arizona and Nebraska, ultimately adopted policies that exclude DACA grantees from driver’s license eligibility.

In July 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the Arizona Department of Transportation to end its policy of denying licenses to DACA recipients, finding that the policy discriminates against them. After the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s request to put the ruling on hold, the district court ordered the Arizona Department of Transportation to stop denying driver’s licenses to otherwise-eligible DACA grantees, effective Dec. 22, 2014.

A federal lawsuit against the Nebraska policy was dismissed earlier this year, but another lawsuit filed in state court is still pending.