Because of an editing error, a story about the Department of Motor Vehicles'position on granting driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants incorrectly referred to a work visa as the document the state may recognize. The eligible applicants will have work permits.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles is waffling on whether it will issue driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants who qualify for an Obama administration deportation reprieve.
Late Monday afternoon, the agency seemed to take a middle course between its statement last week that it would issue drivers licenses and one early Monday that it was "not absolutely certain" licenses could be issued.
"It appears that young people who receive federal deferrals will be eligible for California driver's licenses, but it remains uncertain whether clarifying legislation or regulations will be necessary."
What that means, said Mike Marando, a top spokesman for the agency, is that if the work visa the federal government issues is new or different, state legislation might be necessary to accept it as a driver license document.
On Wednesday, the first day of a federal program that sets aside the deportation threat and grants work permits for qualifying young illegal immigrants -- some 400,000 in California alone -- the DMV said those who have work permits can apply for California
"Do they qualify for a driver's license? The answer is yes," said Marando, deputy director of communications for the state agency, on Wednesday night.
Then, the agency backtracked Monday morning:
"The implications of the federal government's decision are not completely clear because they only started accepting applications," Marando said in an e-mailed statement.
Advocates on both sides of the politically charged illegal immigration debate are demanding answers soon from Gov. Jerry Brown and the DMV.
"There's a way to solve it. The governor, I think, has the power to do that but he's been silent so far," said Lizbeth Mateo, an organizer for DreamActivist California who is eligible for the new work permits.
The 27-year-old Los Angeles activist said driving is essential to get to most jobs in California. She wants Brown to show the state to be "the leader in the way undocumented youth should be treated."
On the other side is Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, who says Brown "should come out very clearly and explain why one of his agencies has decided to just go rogue and hand out what was once one of the most secure documents in the world."
Donnelly on Monday sent a formal inquiry demanding more information from the DMV and warned that the license could become a "gateway ID" leading to other benefits.
Fine print on every California license says it is "a license to drive a motor vehicle; it does not establish eligibility for employment, voter registration, or public benefits."
Still, Donnelly said it also "allows you to board a plane and do a whole lot of other things, whether it says it on the back or not."
Since 1993, California has required proof of legal U.S. residency to get a license, but it remains unclear whether state officials will interpret the Obama administration work permits as proof of temporary U.S. residency.
DMV officials said they have long accepted as proof of legal presence a temporary "employment authorization card" issued to some immigrants.
Virginia has already said it will issue licenses to those who get deferred action, according to an Aug. 7 letter from its DMV commissioner to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arizona and Nebraska announced that they will refuse to grant any state benefits, including driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants getting federal work permits, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office said Monday that the federal program does not affect the state's requirement that Texans prove legal residency before obtaining a license, according to the Texas Tribune.
The Department of Homeland Security last week began accepting "deferred action" applications from 16- to 30-year-old immigrants who meet certain criteria, but left it for states to determine whether to grant other benefits.
"DHS doesn't comment on state-specific matters," said spokesman Peter Boogaard.
Among the other documents already accepted to obtain a California driver's license are U.S. birth certificates, passports or permanent resident cards, Canadian passports or birth certificates, American Indian cards, Northern Mariana cards, refugee travel documents and an immigration judge's order granting political asylum.