DREAMers of Iowa granted driver’s licenses

Thaddeus Mast

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) ruling that did not allow a driver’s license to immigrants who have a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status was overturned Jan. 23.

DREAMers, named after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, introduced in 2001, are immigrants who came to the United States as a child, graduated from an American high school or provided service to U.S. Military, and have not been convicted of a felony. As of Jan. 18, DREAMers have been authorized to lawfully stay in the country by the Department of Homeland Security.

This updated guidance allowed the Iowa DOT to switch positions and, once again, allow licenses to be issued to DREAMers. Before the change, legal definitions in the Iowa Code were the main force stopping the issuing of driver’s licenses. The code previously stated that a driver’s license “shall only be issued to a foreign national authorized to be present in the United States.”  The federal government’s announcement on Jan. 18 clarified that the DREAMers are allowed to remain here legally.

“We were very sad when it appeared that they had interpreted the Iowa Code in a way that was not supportive of these young people, but we’re glad now that everyone’s in agreement, and now, these young people can carry on with their new life,” said Joseph Henry, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa.

Last week, a group of leaders in the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa spoke to political leaders in Des Moines about the issues of those with a DREAMer status. This, along with a concerned letter from the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs, may have helped change the minds of lawmakers about this issue.

“Had we stayed quiet, had we not gone up to the state house, had not the ACLU intervened, those people may not have gotten their driver’s licenses,” Henry said. “I think that whenever a group of people, large or small, speak up and address these leaders face to face, it really helps.”

DREAMers can go get their licenses immediately. An estimated 5,000 young people in the state will be affected by this.

“The Governor’s leadership in keeping our state welcoming to these bright young Iowa DREAMers is commendable,” said Rita Bettis, staff attorney for the ACLU of Iowa in a press release. “Recognizing that the DREAMers are entitled to drivers licenses under Iowa law allows the state to be competitive with its neighbors in keeping these bright youngsters here, where they continue to contribute to our communities, schools, and businesses.”

Henry hopes this is just another stepping stone toward a larger goal.

“Things have changed since Election Day,” Henry said. “It is becoming more clear how important the Latino community is to this country.”