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USCIS Approves 154,000 DACA Applications, Defines Legal Status That Allows Driver's Licenses

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dacaLast week, we learned that since President Obama announced the deferred action (DACA) program last June, 154,404  eligible DREAMers have made it through the process and been approved. Via Univision:

To date, 154,404 young undocumented immigrants have been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama administration program active since August. The program gives DREAMers permission to live and work legally in the U.S.

The latest figures, released today by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) show that even as more people are processed and approved for the deferred action, the rate of applications has slowed.

Also last week, USCIS made another announcement about the “legal status”  of those approved for DACA,  which should aid the process of obtaining driver’s licenses. In “Frequently Asked Questions” about DACA, USCIS stated:

 The fact that you are not accruing unlawful presence does not change whether you are in lawful status while you remain in the United States. However, although deferred action does not confer a lawful immigration status, your period of stay is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security while your deferred action is in effect and, for admissibility purposes, you are considered to be lawfully present in the United States during that time.

That designation of “considered to be lawfully present” is what impacts the prospects for getting a driver’s license. From Stephen Dinan at the Washington Times:

The Obama administration says that illegal immigrants who qualify for its new non-deportation policy are now “considered to be lawfully present” in the U.S. — a legal status that could help them to get driver’s licenses.

Known as “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” or DACA, the new policy grants a tentative status to most illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 and who are 30 or younger.

But the policy has left states facing thorny legal questions about what benefits they can give to those who qualify — with driver’s licenses being a major issue.

The applicants are known as “Dreamers” because of a bill, the Dream Act, that would have granted them a full path to citizenship. That legislation has not passed, but President Obama used the same criteria to draw up his non-deportation policy.

Immigrant rights groups said Friday the new guidance should ease the way for Dreamers to get behind the wheel legally.

“Our local groups were hearing of too many Dreamers being denied driver’s licenses,” said Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy at United We Dream. “Thanks to DACA, tens of thousands of Dreamers are in the workforce and contributing and state officials should no longer be able to deny [anyone who qualifies for DACA] a driver’s license.”

Some states, including California, Connecticut, Florida and Nevada, have already made licenses available to DREAMers. In a major development, Illinois just passed legislation that allows all undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary driver’s licenses. Other states, like Arizona (thanks to one of the nation’s top anti-immigrant officials, Jan Brewer) are blocking progress on this issue. This morning, DREAMers in North Carolina held a rally to have their licenses reinstated, a policy supported by that state’s Attorney General.