Ohio's Illegal Immigrant Policy Remains Unclear

BMV reviewing driver's license rules for DACA recipients

Ohio’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) is granting driver’s licenses to some of the children of illegal immigrants, but what qualifies a few and disqualifies others is so far unknown.

When CityBeat last covered the BMV policy (

“Not Legal Enough,”

issue of Feb. 6), Ever Portillo, a 22-year-old from El Salvador, was unable to get his license even when he was accompanied by his attorney at the West Broad Street BMV office in Columbus. Since then, Portillo returned to the same BMV office with his attorney, a community leader from DreamActivist Ohio and a reporter from The Columbus Dispatch and successfully obtained his license.

At the same time, CityBeat received a tip from an anonymous illegal immigrant after she could not get a driver’s license for her son because, according to what she heard from the BMV, state policy is still being reviewed.

The differences between Portillo and the woman’s experiences are reflected by what seems to be an internal conflict at the BMV, which CityBeat found in a series of internal documents sent by Brian Hoffman, Portillo’s attorney. In emails dating back to January, state officials wrote that “foreign nationals” with C33 Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) and I-797 documents with case types I-765D and I-821D cannot qualify for driver’s licenses. The documents are part of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States without fear of prosecution.

But a Feb. 13 memo from the BMV says Ohio has not issued a statewide policy on DACA for driver’s licenses and is currently reviewing the process. A Feb. 19 email echoes the memo, stating “neither the Department (of Public Safety) nor the BMV has yet issued a statewide broadcast to provide direction regarding the DACA issue.” In a Feb. 21 email, Lindsey Borher, spokesperson at the BMV, told CityBeat, “Our legal department is in the process of reviewing guidance from the federal government as it applies to Ohio law.”

The discrepancy between January and February may be attributable to CityBeat originally breaking the story on the state policy, which was followed by a barrage of statewide media coverage on the issue.

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