#Ohio BMV has to let #DREAMERs be drivers; #immigration #DACA

Originally published by the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Imagine for a moment how you would feel if you suddenly learned you were not an American citizen; that in fact you had no lawful status in the United States and faced deportation to a country you never even knew. Would you pack your bags and leave Northeast Ohio where you grew up, went to school, rooted for the Browns and Indians, and watched fireworks on the Fourth of July? Or would your identity as an American — the core of who you are culturally and personally — compel you to fight for a way to remain legally in your own country?

It sounds incredible, but for thousands of teenagers and young adults in Ohio, this nightmare is a terrible reality. Some learned about their undocumented status while still very young. Others found out when they applied for a Social Security number or to take a college entrance exam.

Referred to as DREAMERs — because they dream that one day Congress will pass a law that gives them a chance to earn citizenship — these young “undocumented Americans” are not merely abstract Washington, D.C., debating points. They are our neighbors, classmates and co-workers. Some, like Manuel Bartsch of Findlay and Bernard Pastor of Cincinnati, have landed on the front pages of Ohio newspapers when their undocumented status led to their arrest, detention, and near-deportation through no fault of their own. Countless other Ohio DREAMERs have been forced to hide their lack of immigration status, living in fear of arrest and deportation every time they leave their homes to go to school, work, or church. Many have had to put their lives on hold, unable to afford college, volunteer for the U.S. armed forces or build a career because of the lack of a simple document.

Last year President Barack Obama offered eligible DREAMERs a temporary reprieve from this limbo in the hopes that soon Congress would overhaul America’s broken immigration system completely. The administrative process, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, gives qualified DREAMERs an opportunity to temporarily step out of the shadows and live without facing deportation. The Department of Homeland Security, which administers DACA, has clearly and unequivocally affirmed that individuals who have been granted DACA are authorized to be in the United States, receive work permits and other documents, and live as normal of a life as possible.

But the bureaucrats who run the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles have different ideas. Inexplicably, they have taken it upon themselves to second-guess the federal government, questioning whether DREAMERs granted DACA are really eligible for driver’s licenses. The result is that many BMV offices across Ohio now refuse to allow DREAMERs to apply for driver’s licenses — even though U.S. immigration authorities clearly have authorized them to live and work in the United States under this program.

Maybe the BMV bureaucrats should read the DACA regulations — they’re available online at uscis.gov. They plainly state that “an individual who has received deferred action is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States, and is therefore considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect.”

They’re allowed to be here, they have Social Security numbers, they’re paying taxes — but the BMV says they can’t drive? Or maybe the BMV should take the advice of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine who, in a recent letter to the Ohio Commission on Latino Affairs, wrote that “it appears that the BMV would have to accept driver’s license applications from individuals that fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative because they can provide all of the information necessary,” including proof that they are authorized to be in the United States.

The eligibility of DACA grantees to apply for driver’s licenses couldn’t be any clearer. It’s astonishing that the BMV, which has no expertise or authority in U.S. immigration law, would take it upon itself to second-guess DHS and DeWine. Maybe the officials at the BMV need a call from their boss, Gov. John Kasich. Surely he’d agree that the citizens of Ohio would be much better served if the BMV bureaucrats focused on their actual jobs — allowing people who qualify for driver’s licenses to obtain them — rather than implementing their own immigration policy that goes against common sense and the rule of the law.

Leopold, a Cleveland-based immigration attorney, is the general counsel and former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

About David Leopold
Past President American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), In-the-Trenches practicing immigration Attorney, Blogger, Activist, Photographer, Educator, World Traveler. All opinions are my own.

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