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Civil liberties group to sue state of Michigan over driver’s license issuance policy

The state of Michigan's refusal to give undocumented immigrants driver's licenses will be challenged in court by the ACLU.

As the United States Citizen and Immigration Services recently reported, many unauthorized immigrants have been able to take advantage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The DACA enables people to continue to work in the country and send money home to their families without having to worry about the chance of them being deported. In order for individuals to work on a day-to-day basis, though, they usually need to be able to drive.

However, three young immigrants were recently denied the ability to obtain a driver's license in Michigan, and, as a result, the American Civil Liberties Union will represent them in court to challenge the state government's ruling.

One of the immigrants' names is Leen Nour El-Zayat. As the ACLU describes it, she was brought to the U.S with her family when she was very young, escaping civil war in the country they moved from, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

She has lived in the U.S. ever since. However, now that she's in school and needs to be able to drive, she's been denied the ability to obtain a license.

"I need to be able to drive so I can get a job and attend medical school, which I have wanted to do since I was a little kid," said El-Zayat. "I just want to serve as a role model for my younger siblings and continue contributing to my community."

Miriam Aukerman, a staff attorney with the ACLU in Michigan who has committed to represent El-Zayat, recently noted that Michigan Gov. Richard Snyder is sending mixed signals with his stance on some of the privileges that ought to be afforded to undocumented immigrants.

"Michigan’s governor has said that his goal is to become the most ‘pro-immigration’ governor in the country; there is nothing more pro-immigration than allowing young people to fulfill their dreams of working and going to school," said Aukerman. "[Michigan Secretary of State Ruth] Johnson’s argument that someone can be authorized to work, however, somehow not authorized to be present in this country, defies common sense and breaks the law.”

ACLU's success would require increasing accessibility to driver's licenses
Should the ACLU and El-Zayat be successful with their lawsuit, a ruling in their favor would mandate Johnson to make driver's licenses available to anyone that's eligible to participate in the DACA program.

Michael Tan, another ACLU attorney, indicated that not enabling unauthorized immigrants in Michigan to obtain a driver's license significantly impairs their ability to pursue their education and career goals.

"We need to remove obstacles that prevent our youth from supporting their families, succeeding at school and contributing to a country they call home, and instead focus on common sense immigration reform," said Tan.

An increasing number of states have either passed or are considering passing legislation that would make driver's licenses available to unauthorized immigrants. Recently, the Illinois Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would afford them this ability. Before it can pass on to the governor for his signature, though, it must first pass the state's House of Representatives.

Though several states allow unauthorized immigrants to get permits, such as Utah, there are only two – Washington and New Mexico – that issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Only recently did Nevada become the third state to do so, as lawmakers passed similar legislation in late November. 

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