Even as polls show national support increasing for immigration reform, and as momentum builds in the U.S. Senate for a plan that would change the lives of millions of people who are already living and working in the United States, evidence suggests that Ohio is considering defying the Obama administration and risking a federal lawsuit over a program put in place to help deserving young immigrants who have grown up in the U.S.
Last June, the Obama administration announced that certain immigrants who were brought to the United States as children would be eligible for what is known as “deferred action.” Deferred action is a form of discretion in which federal authorities determine not to take action to remove certain individuals from the U.S. In August, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications for this new type of relief, known officially as Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or “DACA.” Last month the government reported that over 150,000 young people had already been approved for this program nationwide.
DACA status doesn’t make young immigrants legal residents, even though they grew up and went to school here, speak perfect English, and look just like every other American kid. But even though DACA grantees aren’t considered legal permanent residents, the Department of Homeland Security has been very clear that once a person gets DACA, that person is considered to be lawfully present in the U.S. for as long as their deferment lasts. And DACA status does entitle grantees to legally work in the U.S., so the first thing most kids want to do when they get their DACA paperwork is get a driver’s license so they can get to work.
Until a few weeks ago, Ohio, just like the vast majority of states, was issuing driver’s licenses to DACA grantees who were able to pass a regular driving test. Then, without warning, people started reporting problems. At first, some BMV branches would give licenses to people who brought their DACA papers, while others wouldn’t. Last week, officials quietly said that they’d received new instructions from within the agency to stop giving licenses to DACA grantees entirely. One recent DACA grantee and this blogger (acting as his attorney in my off time from IO) were told by both a BMV branch manager and a compliance officer in the Registrar of Motor Vehicles’ office that Ohio was not issuing driver’s license to DACA grantees until further notice.
So far, only a handful of states have defied the Department of Homeland Security’s guidance and decided not to grant licenses to DACA grantees. Two of those states are now defending federal lawsuits over their decision. It appears the Kasich administration is taking Ohio down that path.
Readers will remember that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted fought all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to stop Ohioans from being able to vote on the weekend before the election. He lost. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine added Ohio to the list of plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that tried to get Obamacare declared unconstitutional. They lost. These complicated (and ultimately unsuccessful) lawsuits are costly. With rumors circulating about what state officials might decide regarding driver’s licenses for DACA grantees, the question now is: how much money is the state willing to spend on yet another expensive lawsuit that it’s very likely to lose?