A Texas driver’s license is among the top documents that undocumented immigrants need to get to a job. A new initiative to provide work permits and “deferred action” on deportations for certain illegal immigrants quickly raised questions about whether those approved for work permits would get driver’s licenses, too.
The answer is yes, say officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety. The work permit, known as an employment authorization document or I-766, is one of the primary documents used for a limited period driver’s license. Various kinds of noncitizens, from refugees to temporary residents, now receive these temporary driver’s licenses.
“Someone who has been granted “deferred action” and presents an employment authorization document (EAD or I-766) meets the Department’s current lawful presence and identification policy,” said Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Public Safety Department. “If they are otherwise eligible (i.e. have met residency, SSN, and other requirements), they can be issued a driver license set to expire when the EAD expires.”
With a temporary work permit, the immigrants can then apply for a temporary Social Security card, if they qualify for the initiative known as deferred action for childhood arrivals, said Vanna Slaughter, the immigration services director for Catholic Charities of Dallas. In similar cases, such Social Security cards have qualifying language that ties validity to the work permit, Slaughter said.
In Arizona, home turf to huge battles over immigration initiatives, Gov. Jan Brewer said last week her state wouldn’t provide driver’s licenses. Ditto for Nebraska.
In a letter dated Aug. 16th to state agencies, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sounded tough, but nuanced. Perry wrote, “To avoid any confusion on the impact of the Obama administration’s actions, I am writing to ensure that all Texas agencies understand that Secretary Napolitano’s guidelines confer absolutely no legal status whatsoever to any alien who qualifies for the federal ‘deferred action’ designation.”
Perry added, “These guidelines do not change our obligations under federal and Texas law to determine a person’s eligibility for state and local public benefits.”
While the federal initiative on deferred action doesn’t provide legal status under immigration, law, it apparently meets the past definition of lawful presence within the state of Texas and the past practice within the state.
Perry has also supported in-state tuition for immigrants in the U.S. without proper documents. And Perry’s letter doesn’t directly mention driver’s licenses.
“He is really doing a balancing act,” said Dan Kowalski, an Austin-based immigration attorney who edits an immigration law website. “He is placating the Tea Party and trying not to [anger] Latino voters.”
The Migration Policy Institute in Washington estimates as many as 1.76 million illegal immigrants could eventually be eligible for the initiative. Applicants cannot be older than 31 and must have arrived in this country before June 15, 2012 and have five years of continuous residency, among other criteria.
California and Texas are estimated to have the largest number of young immigrants who qualify for the initiative, according to the Migration Policy Initiative.