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State retracts driver's license ban for deferred action recipients

More may follow after USCIS clarifies lawful presence
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Immigrants who receive deferred action are lawfully present in the United States, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services now says--a distinction that has led one state to retract its ban on driver's licenses for deferred action recipients.

Iowa's Transportation Department, which said in December it wouldn't give driver's licenses to immigrants granted deferred action, has now said it will.

The clarification from USCIS "changes the definition of persons granted Deferred Action," Iowa's DOT said in a Jan. 23 release.

Because the Homeland Security Department authorizes deferred action recipients to be in the country, it therefore considers them "lawfully present" even though they lack "lawful status." The Iowa DOT said that distinction gives it the legal authority to grant the driver's licenses.

Arizona, Michigan and Nebraska also chose not to issue driver's licenses to deferred action recipients. An immigration attorney familiar with the policies in those states said that Michigan is the most likely to reverse its decision.

North Carolina's Division of Motor Vehicles halted its issuance of the licenses on Jan .15  so it could wait for guidance from the state attorney general. In the meantime, it canceled driving privileges for 13 deferred action applicants to whom it had issued licenses "unintentionally," according the state Transportation Department.

Two days later, the attorney general said (.pdf) that in his department's opinion, deferred action recipients are lawfully present, and that North Carolina law thus requires that they be allowed to receive driver's licenses.

The next day, USCIS issued its clarification. A spokesman for USCIS declined to comment about whether the agency's clarification was related to some states' refusals to give driver's licenses to deferred action recipients.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed lawsuits in Arizona and Michigan on behalf of deferred action recipients seeking driver's licenses, said USCIS's clarification strengthens its cases.

More than 100,000 immigrants have received deferred action, which grants them a reprieve from deportation and work authorization for 2 years, subject to renewal.

For more:
- see USCIS's webpage for frequently asked questions about deferred action (relevant changes appear under Q1)

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