Wyoming will now issue drivers licenses for “Dreamer” immigrants

The Wyoming Attorney General's office decided last week to issue driver's licenses to immigrants in the DACA program. (Courtesy of Tom Forst)

The Wyoming Attorney General’s office decided last week to issue driver’s licenses to immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Courtesy of Tom Forst)

By Gregory Nickerson
April 8, 2013

In a reversal of policy, Wyoming will begin to issue drivers licenses to young immigrants who are authorized to live and work in the United States. The change will allow immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to take the state driver’s test. Those who pass can drive legally and purchase car insurance.

Until now, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WyDOT) had denied licenses to those enrolled in the DACA program. Under DACA, immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children won’t be prosecuted for a period of two years. (Such immigrants are often known as “Dreamers”.) After registering with DACA, they can get federal work permits and temporary social security numbers that allow them to pay into the Social Security Administration.

For those non-citizens who come to Wyoming on a visa, having a work permit and social security number is all they need to get driver’s licenses. However, WyDOT had withheld licenses from DACA participants on the understanding that they remain in violation of U.S. immigration laws.

The federal executive branch refuted that interpretation in recent documents. That led the ACLU of Wyoming and immigration lawyers Elisabeth Trefonas of Jackson and John Huss of Casper to ask the attorney general’s office for a policy review. The Human Rights Practicum at the University of Wyoming also offered information.

Attorney General Gregory Phillips conferred with Gov. Matt Mead’s office, then made a decision on Friday, April 5th.

News of the change has already made it to Jackson, where DACA enrollees have contacted attorney Elisabeth Trefonas asking when they’ll be able to take their driver’s tests.

“It means they don’t have to look over their shoulder any time they go anywhere. Like their friends, they can work, drive, and act like they belong here,” said Trefonas. “I remember when I was sixteen (and getting a license) was your symbol of freedom. To be approaching your mid twenties and not being able to get yourself to work, it’s got to be a relief.”

The attorney general’s office directed WyDOT to notify its 29 license bureaus about the policy change this week. Assistant attorney general Doug Moench said notification of local WyDOT offices is underway.

Wyoming’s change of position leaves Arizona and Nebraska as the only states still denying drivers licenses to DACA recipients.

Reporter’s note: WyoFile reported on the DACA license issue in the March 19th feature Dreamers seek driver’s licenses in Wyoming. Planet Jackson Hole and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle republished the story under WyoFile’s policy of free content sharing.

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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Published on April 8, 2013

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