DES MOINES (AP) — Within a week of Iowa officials declaring in January that driver’s licenses would be issued to young illegal immigrants granted temporary residency, about 100 new licenses and identification cards had been issued, state Department of Transportation officials said.
Paul Maciel was among those who lined up after state officials reversed course on Jan. 23 and said they would issue licenses to those who qualify for President Barack Obama’s deferred action program, announced last June.
“It felt awesome. I would say if you have nothing to hide and if you want to feel a little bit lighter and not so burdened by the weight of being undocumented go ahead and do it,” said Maciel, 26, who lives in Des Moines. “It’s given me wings.”
The 100 licenses and IDs were granted between Jan. 23 and Jan. 31, said Mark Lowe, director of the Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division.
Another 40 licenses were granted to temporary residents before the Department of Transportation announced in December it would not issue licenses or IDs to immigrants brought into the U.S. as children by parents who were not legal residents and who qualify for the deferred action program. Those licenses are not being revoked, Lowe said.
He said in some cases, officials received applications for licenses and IDs but have not issued them because applicants still need to take their driving tests or because of insufficient paperwork.
Immigration activists say more licenses will come as people are accepted into the deferred action program, a process that can take months.
Young people who qualify for deferred status are sometimes known as DREAMers, after the proposed DREAM Act, which would offer citizenship to young illegal immigrants who were brought into the country by their parents.
Nationally, there were 407,899 applications for the program between August 15 and January 17, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Of those, 154,404 have been approved, 13,366 rejected and another 371,103 are still under review.
The department did not have detailed information available on the number of applications out of Iowa. A top-10 ranking of the states with the most applicants shows that California, Texas and New York lead the pack.
Sandra Sanchez, immigrant voice program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Des Moines, estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 young people in Iowa have applied for the deferred action program, based on information from her organization and other social service groups.
“We know there are a lot more that have not applied,” she said.
Hector Salamanca, 19, of Des Moines said he has friends who have not applied because they fear being denied or prosecuted by the government.
“I did it because I weighed the benefits versus the negatives. You get a Social Security number, a work permit and you can get a driver’s license,” said Salamanca, who got a driving permit in December before the Iowa ban was announced and expects to get his license after he takes lessons and can pass a driving test.