Rep. Shelby Maldonado (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) and Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) have introduced legislation that would continue to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors.
In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to allow young unauthorized immigrants who are low enforcement priorities to remain in the country with temporary lawful status. A person who receives deferred action is considered to be lawfully present and may apply for work authorization. Deferred action is permitted for a renewable period of two years but it does not grant legal immigration status nor a pathway to citizenship. Deferred action under DACA may be terminated if the recipient engages in criminal activity, leaves the country without advanced parole, or if the program is repealed.
An estimated 3,300 individuals in Rhode Island are eligible for the DACA program, but only around 1,200 signed up before the program was terminated. DHS announced that the program was to be phased out over six months, ending March 5, but on Jan. 9, a U.S. district judge ordered that DACA recipients be allowed to continue submitting renewal applications while legislation is pending in Congress.
“DACA youth have called Rhode Island home since they were children — some since they were infants — and have no significant connection to the land of their birth,” said Representative Maldonado, who co-chairs the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus. “They have become a vital part of Rhode Island’s educational community, business community and culture. They are a key part of Rhode Island’s future, and I thank Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for his support and involvement in this issue.”
According to a poll conducted by WPRI and Roger Williams University, 75 percent of Rhode Island voters support allowing immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children to stay in the country without risk of deportation.
“DACA recipients have made meaningful contributions to the state’s economy, forming businesses and participating in education,” said Senator McCaffrey. “This legislation will guarantee that state law regarding driver’s licenses and work authorization will continue to apply to them, no matter how federal deliberations on the issue play out.”
The bill would require the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue driver’s licenses to every qualifying applicant or past recipient of a grant of deferred action. It would also authorize the director of the Department of Labor and Training to issue special limited work permits.