Having Trouble Getting a Driver’s License due to your immigrant status or document issues? Read This:
When I was still a law student, the U.S. Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which was intended to help prevent document fraud and the procurement of false identification documents by requiring states to comply with new federal requirements contained in the Act. Among other things, the REAL ID Act required that states enter into an understanding with the Department of Homeland Security and develop methods to verify that a person applying for a driver’s license is lawfully present in the United States before issuing a license. In other words, the Act required states to begin checking a person’s immigration status before issuing a driver’s license – even if it was a renewal of the person’s license.
My immigration law professor said he imagined that these requirements would not actually be imposed because they were too restrictive and too difficult to implement. The implementation of these requirements had been delayed several times, but a few years later, I was a licensed attorney, and the implementation of the REAL ID Act was finally beginning. States had to begin checking the immigration status of each Driver’s License applicant to verify that they were lawfully present in the United States. This seems simple enough – a person ought to be able to show something to indicate that they are allowed to be in the U.S. But individuals present on temporary work visas began having problems with getting their driver’s licenses renewed while they were in the process of renewing their work authorization. Some people had the option of requesting expedited processing of their visa renewals but it came at a cost of over $1000.00.
Driver’s License for Immigrants
In the last two years, states have begun to review proof of lawful presence from an applicant for a driver’s license and then tell the person to leave their office and wait to be contacted – the Department of Public Safety (or Department of Motor Vehicles as it is called in some states) is required to check the person’s documentation and use the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program. Through the SAVE program, many immigrants with authorization to remain in the United States (including those who are awaiting the outcome of their application for legal status) must wait several business days for the DPS to verify that they are actually allowed to be in the U.S.
These changes have left many undocumented immigrants without the ability to obtain a driver’s license. It has also left immigrants who are lawfully present in the United States stuck in a holding pattern while they wait for the DPS to confirm that they may renew their license. At times, employees of the DPS erroneously tell people they are not allowed to obtain a driver’s license.
If you stop and think for a moment how many times you are asked to show your driver’s license in the course of a day – when using a credit card, when ordering a glass of wine, joining a gym or club, picking up a package at the post office – it is hard to imagine what it must be like without one, or when waiting on one. It also has not had a huge impact in our security or safety – it has instead driven the undocumented further into the shadows. It is time to give everyone a path into the light.
If you are having problems obtaining a driver’s license, state identification card, or need assistance with your immigration status so that you can obtain a driver’s license or ID, an experienced immigration lawyer can help you understand your options.