What you need to know about Ohio Politics and Policy
· May 31, 2013
Republican bill would prevent young immigrants, raised in America, from getting drivers licenses
Back in February we blogged about how Ohio public safety officials were denying driver’s licenses to young immigrants who had recently been issued work permits under a new program announced by President Obama last year. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows young people who came to the United States without authorization to apply for a work permit and social security number if they: 1) came here before the age of 16; 2) have been in the U.S. for the last six years; 3) are either in school, have graduated from high school, or have served in the armed forces; and 4) have not been convicted of any serious crimes and are not a threat to national security.
For several months Ohio BMV officials would say only that they were studying the issue internally, all the while denying licenses to individuals who the federal government had explicitly said were allowed to live and work in the United States. Finally, after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told the Columbus Dispatch that he thought Ohio law as written did include DACA recipients within the driver’s license eligibility requirements, BMV officials relented and began allowing DACA recipients to apply for driver’s licenses on March 29.
According to the National Immigration Law Center at least 45 states now allow DACA recipients to apply for licenses, but it now appears that this is far from the end of the story for Ohio. Although we previously told you about a bill introduced by State Reps. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) and Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) that would amend the Ohio Revised Code to make DACA kids explicitly eligible for licenses, State Rep. Matt Lynch (R-Bainbridge) has recently introduced his own bill, HB 114, that would do the opposite – it would explicitly exclude DACA recipients from the list of people eligible for driver’s licenses in Ohio.
In his sponsor testimony on the bill, Rep. Lynch cited two specific reasons why DACA recipients shouldn’t have driver’s licenses: first, that Ohio’s “illegal alien population” is a major burden on taxpayers because of the cost of providing services like education, medical care and law enforcement; and second, that Ohio “should not allow ourselves to become mere subjects of the Federal Government.”
The argument that undocumented immigrants represent a drain on the economy is dubious for two reasons. First, the specific statistics that Rep. Lynch used in his testimony, which appear often in arguments about immigration in general, originated with a “study” by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (“FAIR”) which, it turns out, is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Second, aside from the dubious credibility of its source, the overall cost figure cited is also misleading because it’s largely based on the estimated cost of educating U.S. citizens whose parents happen to be undocumented. In other words, FAIR decided that paying for the education of American children whose parents happen to be in the U.S. without authorization is somehow a “cost” resulting from illegal immigration. This argument is akin to calculating the “cost” to taxpayers of adoption or fertility drugs by estimating how much money it costs to educate children whose parents took advantage of those options to expand their families.
As a counter-argument to the idea that immigrants drain resources from Ohio taxpayers, the Center for American Progress (not a hate group) recently published the results of its own study showing that undocumented immigrants in Ohio would pay $414 million more in state taxes over 10 years if the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill passes at the federal level. Furthermore, it’s curious that Rep. Lynch should suddenly be so concerned about the cost of education in Ohio, when just last month he (and all five of his co-sponsors on the driver’s license bill) voted yes on HB 59, which represented the smallest commitment to K-12 education (as a percentage of Ohio’s total state budget) since 1996-1997.
Rep. Lynch’s second argument, that giving driver’s licenses to kids to whom the federal government has already granted work permits and social security numbers will make Ohio “mere subjects of the Federal Government,” is also curious because Ohio is, in fact, required to comply with federal directives by the very clear terms of the U.S. Constitution – a document that members of the Ohio General Assembly take an oath to uphold. Moreover, as a purely practical matter it’s difficult to see the value in being authorized to work by the federal government if the State of Ohio won’t let you drive to get to your job.
Last week, the Ohio House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee heard proponent testimony on Rep. Lynch’s bill. Of immediate concern to this blogger (who happens to practice immigration law when not working for IO), was that much of the information provided to the Committee in the testimony of many of the witnesses turned out to be factually inaccurate and untrue. While the broader issue of immigration understandable provokes strong feelings in many people, this blogger was extremely concerned by how much of the proponent testimony he heard was misleading, hurtful, unrelated to the bill being debated, and just plain wrong.
When debating such a sensitive topic as immigration, it’s all too easy to very quickly lose track of the fact that Rep. Lynch’s particular bill is really very narrow in scope. It’s a bill designed for the singular purpose of making sure kids who grew up in the U.S., went to school here, and have obeyed the law, will be unable to get a driver’s license in Ohio. Later this week the Committee is expected to schedule a hearing date for testimony in opposition to the bill. We’ll bring you further updates on this legislation as future hearings are announced…