State lawmakers in Virginia and across the country are weighing a host of bills aimed at preserving driver’s licenses and other benefits for undocumented immigrants who may lose the protected status long afforded them by the federal government.
Immigrants from Central America, Haiti and Sudan will see their temporary protected status expire over the next 18 months, while the fate of 690,000 participants in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remains deeply uncertain after bills to protect “dreamers” failed in Congress this week.
Participants in either DACA or TPS generally qualified for driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition even in states where those privileges are otherwise unavailable to undocumented immigrants. Now, with the programs in jeopardy, lawmakers in about a dozen states are arguing that those immigrants should not be pushed into a shadow economy after living in the United States for decades.
“Because of the change in national rhetoric, it’s going to be a really interesting year at the state level, in terms of how states are going to portray themselves as welcoming or not welcoming to certain immigrant populations,” said Ann Morse, who oversees an immigration project at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “There is a real public debate going on that is just getting started.”