Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are competing for the Hispanic vote, leading the candidates to argue about their stances on everything from the Cuba embargo to rights for illegal immigrants.
During the Telemundo debate Oct. 10, the debate moderator asked the candidates to explain their conflicting views on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill to give driver licenses to those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, sometimes called "Dreamers." Scott vetoed it.
Crist, a Democrat, said during the debate: "I’m in favor of a driver’s license for Dreamers. The governor recently signed a bill where they can have in-state tuition. And that was a good thing to do. But if you can’t drive to school, or you can’t drive to your job, good luck getting to work."
Scott, a Republican, responded: "The driver’s license bill that was passed, nothing changed. Those same individuals have the right to get a Florida driver’s license today."
Scott was partially correct and partially misleading. Floridians who get Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, called DACA, generally get work permits, which they can use to get driver’s licenses.
But he is overstating the situation when he says "nothing changed," because that bill would have affirmatively given those immigrants the right to use their DACA forms to get a driver’s license, even if their work permit didn’t arrive simultaneously.
Scott vetoed the driver license bill
In 2012, Obama announced DACA, which allows illegal immigrants who came to the country as children to apply for a renewable, temporary status that suspends deportation, as long as they can prove they are law abiding and meet other requirements. As of the end of June 2014, about 580,000 individuals nationwide received initial deferred action including 23,196 in Florida.
In 2013, Florida lawmakers proposed HB 235. The proposal would allow Dreamers to use their new federal status as a way to obtain a temporary driver license.
A Florida House analysis said that without the law, Dreamers would first have to receive an employment authorization card before they could receive a temporary driver license.
In his veto message, Scott bashed the Obama administration for implementing DACA and then argued that the bill was unnecessary:
"Already, Florida law allows those with a federal employment authorization card, without regard to their deferred action status, to obtain a temporary Florida driver license. Although the Legislature may have been well intentioned in seeking to expedite the process to obtain a temporary driver license, it should not have been done by relying on a federal government policy adopted without legal basis."
PolitiFact Florida asked spokespersons for Scott’s office and campaign to explain his evidence that the bill would not have changed anything and if that was the case why he bothered vetoing it. The only response we received was a copy of Scott’s veto.
Democrats and immigrant rights’ groups criticized Scott’s veto and characterized it as a blow to Hispanics.
But some news reports characterized Scott’s driver license veto as largely symbolic since immigrants could still get a driver license with the federal work permit.
The ACLU of Florida, which criticized Scott’s veto, sent a letter to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles stating "the veto should have no impact on DHSMV’s current practice of granting driver’s licenses to current DACA recipients who have employment authorization."
Federal immigration officials told PolitiFact Florida that people apply for DACA and the work permit at the same time and nearly everyone gets both.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Service approved 591,555 requests for DACA between Aug. 15, 2012 and July 31, 2014.
During the same period, the agency denied 635 applications for work permits. Potential reasons include failing to sign the forms or provide property documentation.
Most of the immigration law experts we interviewed said that generally applicants get DACA and work permits at the same time, though some had heard anecdotes about people who got their DACA days, weeks or months before the work permit.
Since such a delay could occur, the Legislature wanted to give these immigrants the right to use DACA to get their driver’s licenses as quickly as possible.
"It was basically to give those folks an opportunity to get their driver’s license right away," bill sponsor state Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, told PolitiFact Florida. "Sometimes they get their approval letter and work permit at the same time but sometimes they don’t. It was just a show of support toward the Dreamers and said ‘we are behind you.’ "
Scott said that "nothing changed" for certain illegal immigrants to get driver licenses in a bill he vetoed.
There was a change in the bill: It would have affirmatively stated that immigrants with DACA approval could use that documentation to get driver’s licenses. Scott vetoed the bill, so immigrants don’t have that right.
However, applicants for DACA simultaneously apply for a work permit and generally get their approvals around the same time. If Scott hadn’t vetoed the bill, it would have meant that those who get DACA first wouldn’t have to wait for their work permit, although it is sometimes a short wait.
The claim is partially accurate in that immigrants who get DACA will likely get a work permit and they can use that work permit to get the driver’s license. However, Scott exaggerated when he said "nothing changed" in the bill he vetoed.
We rate this claim Half True.
Editor's note: This report initially appeared with conflicted rulings. The correct ruling is Half True.