Confusion, inconsistency mark driver's license issue for young Oregon immigrants

Article author: 
Andrea Castillo
Article publisher:
Article date: 
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

While President Barack Obama has cleared the way for many young immigrants to remain in the United States legally, Oregon officials are confused about whether to let them drive or not.

In field offices across the state, some recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are getting licenses or permits, while others are being turned away. Obama created the program earlier this year to defer deportations of young immigrants.

Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services said Friday that it would not issue driver's licenses to those recipients. However, officials retracted that decision late Wednesday, saying there is still an ongoing discussion with the Oregon Department of Justice about the issue.

"Apparently those conversations are still going on with the Department of Justice," said David House, public information officer for the DMV. "We were thinking that we had a decision, but they are still chewing on it."

The deliberation makes one thing clear: Oregon could become the fourth state, after Michigan, Arizona and Nebraska, to deny licenses to deferred action recipients.

House said DMV executives began consulting with the Department of Justice in October about the issue. At the time, he said, they instructed field officers to not accept driver's license applications from deferred action recipients. Instead, they were told to come back when there was a definitive answer.

But a number of people have somehow fallen through the cracks. Many received 90-day permits and several received licenses. House said those exceptions are likely due to confusion at the DMV field office level.

Alejandra Nicolas, 20, of Tigard is one such person. She was accepted into the deferred action program two weeks ago and, after getting her Social Security card, went to the DMV on Tuesday to get her driver's permit. She said she passed the written test, but was denied a permit when the DMV employee realized she needed additional verification.

"I'm pretty disappointed in the state," she said. "I have so many hopes and dreams. They are doing a pretty good job of crushing them."

Francisco Lopez, executive director of the immigrant rights group Causa, said the situation is very unsettling.

"The bottom line here is this whole uncertainty is frustrating a lot of people," he said. "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is saying they have a Social Security number, they have temporary authorization to be in the United States. It is frustrating because we don't know what is going to happen."

Further confusion arose Tuesday night when Univision Portland reported that Gov. John Kitzhaber was responsible for the halt on driver's licenses to deferred action recipients.

Tim Raphael, communications director for the Governor's office, said Kitzhaber became aware of the issue Wednesday and asked for legal advice to determine what authority he may have.

"The governor didn't ask the DMV to halt issuing driver's licenses to anyone," Raphael said. "There is not a final legal opinion yet."

House, of the DMV, said that being in the state legally has been required to get a license, permit or identification card in Oregon since 2008.

He cited the Department of Homeland Security website, which says, "Deferred action does not provide an individual with lawful status." However, states may interpret that differently.

House said Oregon is not the only state struggling with the issue. Most states require legal presence to get a license, he said, and officials have to follow their legal advice.

"It's been an ongoing learning process for us to deal with federal immigration documents," he said. "We have to go with what our attorney says is legal or not legal."