Lansing groups gathered Monday to celebrate a victory for what many hope will be the beginning of widespread U.S. immigration reform, starting with students.
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced Friday the Department of State will issue driver’s licenses to young immigrants who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program implemented last June.
Qualifying participants are young immigrants who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children by their parents.
Deferring action means the government does not consider deporting these young adults a top priority, temporarily saving them from threats of deportation, said Veronica Thronson, assistant clinical professor at MSU’s College of Law and director of the Immigration Law Clinic.
There are about 1.8 million U.S. immigrants eligible for the DACA program, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
On Monday, immigration reform advocacy groups headed to the Central United Methodist Church, 215 N. Capitol Ave., in Lansing, to kick off the “Dream For All” campaign asking for comprehensive immigration reform and to fill out thank-you cards for Johnson for allowing DACA students to obtain driver’s licenses.
“The feds now say they consider these young people to be lawfully present while they participate in the DACA program, so we are required to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards,” Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson’s announcement came days after President Barack Obama laid out a plan to help about 11 million immigrants achieve citizenship status.
Last Tuesday, Obama said the majority of the millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally, “aren’t looking for any trouble.”
Obama said immigrants help the U.S. by keeping the workforce young and technology cutting edge.
“There are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities,” he said. “They’re earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, … there’s a good chance they’ll have to leave our country.”
Maximo Anguiano, coordinator of Action of Greater Lansing’s Civil Rights for Immigrants Task Force who was in attendance at Monday’s event, said the organization admittedly has seen many defeats throughout the seven years it has been fighting for immigration reform, but between Johnson’s announcement and Obama’s talk of immigration reform, he feels things are looking up.
Graduate student Cristina Venegas, president of Comunidad Latino-Americana, an MSU student group that welcomes Latino students to campus, said students from Latin American work hard in the U.S. because many want to take what they learned and apply it when they return home. She said she’s happy to hear DACA students now have the same opportunities as most MSU students.
“It’s not their fault that their parents bring them here,” she said. “I think that it’s good they can get their license and be able to drive and go to work.”
Thronson, who has interviewed MSU students who qualify for the DACA program, said Obama’s promise to help student immigrants is a positive step toward helping immigrants come to MSU.
“There is definitely major impact not only (for) college students but also for students who are looking to enroll at MSU,” she said.