As an immigration attorney in Austin, I must remain apprised of major developments within the immigration community. One of the biggest events within many immigrant communities was the enactment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This new policy by the federal government allows undocumented immigrants younger than 31 to obtain a deferment of possible deportation action for two years. Immigrants must have arrived in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday and remain in school, graduated or honorably completed service in the U.S. military in order to become eligible for this program.
Although DACA has been celebrated in many immigrant communities for lifting the terrible burden of possible deportation from the shoulders of young undocumented immigrants who typically identify closely with other American young people, some political figures have not embraced this policy. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has vetoed bill HB 235 which would have authorized the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to provide driver’s licenses to individuals who qualified for the DACA deferments. This action by the governor has inspired strong criticism from many state legislative leaders.
Governor Scott pointed to the supposed illegal basis of DACA in his statements regarding his veto. He stated that the federal policy had no legal basis, but did concede that the Florida Legislature acted out of good faith. The Republican controlled Florida legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass HB 235; the House voted 115-2 in favor of passage, while the Senate voted 36-0 to pass. The governor’s veto of a bill with such overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats has sparked curious speculation from analysts.
Rick Scott has not been popular in his state as evidenced by Qinniapac polling which indicates approval ratings from 36 to 48 percent. Some lawmakers believe that the Republican governor may be attempting to firm up support among his conservative base. Democratic lawmakers who represent a large Latino and African American voting community have pounced on the governor’s actions as an issue to vote him out of office in the next gubernatorial election.
From a practical point of view, this veto does not limit most qualified DACA drivers. Young immigrants who receive a DACA deferment receive a temporary Social Security card which is accepted by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles as proof of legal status. This has led many lawmakers including state Senator Darren Soto to label the governor’s actions as purely political.
With more than 291,000 young undocumented immigrants granted deferments through DACA, the issue of driver’s licenses has become a serious issue for many state governments. The majority of states have allowed DACA recipients to obtain licenses, but it is usually a temporary measure as the deferments are for only two year periods.
As a seasoned immigration lawyer, I am concerned that state governments provide equitable programs that serve the public welfare. The majority of young immigrants require driver’s licenses for work and this provides benefits to the communities they reside in. If you or someone you know would like to discuss DACA or other programs, please contact my office at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a confidential consultation.