WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — The California Department of Motor Vehicles is waffling on whether it will issue driver’s licenses to young illegal immigrants who qualify for an Obama administration deportation reprieve.
Late Monday afternoon, the agency seemed to take a middle course between its statement last week that it would issue drivers licenses and one early Monday that it was “not absolutely certain” licenses could be issued.
By late Monday afternoon, the DMV position was:
“It appears that young people who receive federal deferrals will be eligible for California driver’s licenses, but it remains uncertain whether clarifying legislation or regulations will be necessary.”
What that means, said Mike Marando, a top spokesman for the agency, is that if the work visa the federal government issues is new or different, state legislation might be necessary to accept it as a driver license document.
On Wednesday, the first day of a federal program that sets aside the deportation threat and grants work permits for qualifying young illegal immigrants — some 400,000 in California alone — the DMV said those who have work permits can apply for California driver’s licenses.
“Do they qualify for a driver’s license? The answer is yes,” said Marando, deputy director of communications for the state agency, on Wednesday night.
Then, the agency backtracked Monday morning:
“The implications of the federal government’s decision are not completely clear because they only started accepting applications,” Marando said in a statement.
“No one has yet been approved, and for this reason it is not absolutely certain what documents successful applicants will be issued by the federal government.”
Advocates on both sides of the politically charged debate are demanding answers soon from Gov. Jerry Brown and the DMV.
“There’s a way to solve it. The governor, I think, has the power to do that, but he’s been silent so far,” said Lizbeth Mateo, an organizer for DreamActivist California who is eligible for the new work permits.
The 27-year-old Los Angeles activist said driving is essential to get to most jobs in California. She wants Brown to show the state to be “the leader in the way undocumented youth should be treated.”
On the other side is Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, who says Brown “should come out very clearly and explain why one of his agencies has decided to just go rogue and hand out what was once one of the most secure documents in the world.”
Donnelly on Monday sent a formal inquiry demanding more information from and warned that the license could become a “gateway ID” leading to other benefits.
Fine print on every California license says it is “a license to drive a motor vehicle; it does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits.”