Attorney General, Senator Disagree on Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently issued a clarification of state law which could put more illegal immigrants behind the wheel on Ohio’s highways, as state legislatures across the nation debate whether a presidential order blocking deportation under certain circumstances also confers privileges typically reserved for legally naturalized citizens. At least one state senator disputes DeWine’s reading of the statute.

DeWine, a Republican, advised Ohio Department of Public Safety lawyers currently reviewing state policy that “the BMV would have to accept driver license applications from individuals that fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative because they can provide all of the information necessary.”

Although DeWine’s opinion is not legally binding, it carries weight because he is the state’s top law enforcement official.

Questions about “lawful status” and “lawful presence” are complicated by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order issued by President Obama in June 2012. DACA effectively directed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant partial amnesty – renewed every two years – to illegal aliens who entered the U.S. as children and have resided in the country since 2007.

“Deferred action does not confer lawful status upon an individual,” the DHS website explains. “In addition, although an individual whose case is deferred will not be considered to be accruing unlawful presence in the United States during the period deferred action is in effect, deferred action does not excuse individuals of any previous or subsequent periods of unlawful presence.”

The language of DACA has incited debate between illegal immigrant advocacy groups and state lawmakers over program participants’ immigration status.

Ohio Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) expressed disagreement with Attorney General DeWine’s opinion in an interview with Media Trackers.

“I don’t understand how he’s getting to that point,” Seitz said. “‘Legal presence’ is not equal to ‘legal status,’ per [DHS’s] own website, and ‘legal status’ is what our current Administrative Code apparently requires.”

Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) 4501:1-1-37(B) allows issuance of a “nonrenewable license or nonrenewable identification card” to applicants who provide “full legal name, date of birth, social security number if ever assigned, proof of Ohio street address and legal presence in the United States, and temporary residence in this state.”

OAC 4501:1-1-37(A) defines an individual with “legal presence” as one who “has taken the necessary steps to ensure that they have a recognizable legal status with the United States as evidenced by the appropriate legal documents issued by the United States citizen and immigration services.”

“I keep asking,” Sen. Seitz told Media Trackers, saying the last response he received from DeWine’s office was, “please tell the senator we have nothing further to say, it’s in the governor’s office now.”

Public safety officials in as many as 30 states have begun to grant illegal immigrants driving privileges, while officials in other states argue that the nature of the executive order is a special case precluding illegal immigrants covered by DACA from receiving driver’s licenses.

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