Since last August, more than 150,000 undocumented young people have gotten permission to live and work in the United States for two years. It makes no sense to allow them to have jobs but, in some parts of Ohio, not to allow them the means to get to work. Ohio’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles can and should fix this.
The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program allows young people who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents before they were 16 years old to remain here lawfully — if not quite legally — for two more years. They can obtain Social Security numbers, work, and pay taxes.
Many of these young people have spent most of their lives here. Culturally, they are Americans, and would be lost if they were forced to return to the countries of their birth. Deferred action is designed to ensure they don’t get deported before lawmakers can come up with a plan to allow people who qualify to obtain permanent residence here.
In January, the federal Homeland Security Department made clear that people who qualify for the deferment have a “lawful presence” in the United States. That seemed to authorize these young people to get drivers’ licenses.
Most states, including Michigan, have decided that people in the deferred action program are eligible for licenses. Few states — Arizona is a prime example — are denying licenses as a challenge to President Obama’s immigration policy.
But Ohio’s response has been a muddle. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles hasn’t been able to make up its mind, so it allowed local license bureaus to choose.
As a result, thousands of undocumented aliens who have gone to license bureaus in Lucas County and surrounding counties now can drive legally. But thousands of other young people who went to license bureaus in other Ohio counties — mostly in the southern part of the state — have been turned away.
Many of these young people have jobs or attend school. Giving them the chance to get a license legally reduces the temptation to drive illegally, makes it more likely they will receive training before they drive, and increases the chance they will have automobile insurance. That will make Ohio roads safer for everyone.
Some 23,000 young undocumented immigrants in Michigan, and perhaps a similar number in Ohio, qualify for licenses. Those numbers may rise as more people apply for deferred-action status. Michigan acted quickly and responsibly. Ohio should too.
Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati and Sen. Charleta Tavares of Columbus, both Democrats, propose allowing undocumented immigrants who qualify for the deferment program to obtain valid licenses. But legislation shouldn’t be necessary.
Instead, the state licensing bureau should act quickly to establish a uniform policy across Ohio that will recognize the lawful status of these young people, by allowing them to drive legally.
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