On Friday, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office announced they would issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who’ve been approved to work and study in the state. Immigrants who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, a policy announced by President Barack Obama in June, can now receive temporary Michigan licenses, reversing the state’s previous approach under Secretary Ruth Johnson. While the state aligning with the DACA program is a good first step, more substantial immigration reform is needed to keep immigrants working in Michigan.
Under DACA, illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States before they were 16, are under age 31, have lived here for five years, are enrolled or graduated from high school and don’t pose a risk are eligible for a renewable 2-year deportation deferral. According to a recent MLive article, Johnson previously denied licenses to DACA-approved immigrants, stating issues with technical language in Michigan’s law, which forbids issuing licenses to those without proof of legal presence. But after last month’s decision from the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which affirmed that DACA receivers were indeed legal citizens, Johnson changed her tone. On Feb. 1, the Michigan SOS office announced they’d allow these immigrants to own Michigan driver’s licenses. Comprehensive reform still lies ahead.
In January, Gov. Rick Snyder reflected on the immigration debate currently taking place on the national level, urging for more extensive change in immigration policy. “It’s critical that we implement an effective system for legal immigration,” he said in a Jan. 30 statement. Snyder is a proponent of increasing work visas to highly skilled immigrants — as well as other reforms — but no legislative action has been taken to make this a reality. If Michigan wishes to be on the forefront of immigration reform, the state legislature must take action to open up opportunities to all immigrants — not just those skilled in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The governor has verbalized his support for Obama’s four-part immigration plan, yet there are still families that are worlds apart while Congress argues on full amnesty for immigrants.
Here at the University, Mary Sue Coleman has come out in support for changing the school’s immigration policy but has made no tangible commitments to specific issues like tuition equality. Currently, undocumented students who live in Michigan but lack necessary paperwork don’t qualify for in-state tuition — even if they’ve lived in the state throughout high school. Federal and state financial aid isn’t offered to these students either, making an affordable education at the University out of reach for many. Coleman applauded the national discussion about immigration reform but refrained from challenging the current tuition policies, instead stating that there needed to be laws that allow tuition equality in order for the University to act. While the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 prohibits immigrants from benefits like financial aid, public universities are constitutionally autonomous, meaning the University makes its own rules regarding residency requirements for students. While administrative task forces have been made with the Coalition for Tuition Equality, progress has been slow. Going forward, the University must take a stronger stance on immigration rights, encouraging effective and moral policies.