March 16, 2018

Bill to restore access to licenses for ‘Dreamers’ passes House

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A bill to restore the ability of “Dreamers” to obtain professional licenses in Indiana passed the House on March 5 by a vote of 88-8. The Senate was expected to concur on the bill before the Indiana General Assembly adjourned on March 14. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the proposal.

The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, the rule-making body for professional licensing, began making changes to its forms last August to conform with a law passed in 2011 by the Indiana General Assembly which created the problem for Dreamers, the approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought into the United States beyond their control as children.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows Dreamers to request deferral from deportation, renewable every two years. It also provides eligibility for a work permit.

Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said he had been looking to find a home for his amendment to fix the professional licensing problem negatively impacting DACA participants in Indiana, and was pleased to learn Senate Bill 419 could be used as a vehicle to add the DACA language.

Clere’s amendment restores an avenue to attain professional licensing in Indiana for Dreamers. The state representative said the problem for Dreamers stems from the 2011 bill passed which predated DACA. He said that, for whatever reason, the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency did not deny licenses to DACA participants from the inception of DACA in 2012 until late last year.

In August of 2017, the agency started changing the application forms of all licensed professions and completed that process by November. “During that time, from 2012 until late last year, countless DACA participants received professional licenses, and many others have completed education and training or are currently enrolled with the expectation of receiving a license,” said Clere. “Now they are ineligible whether it’s for a new license or a renewal.”

The state representative said he became aware of the situation when he heard of a young woman who completed a two-year training program to become a cosmetologist, but was denied a license when she applied. “Now that she cannot work as a cosmetologist, her work options are limited and not too attractive,” Clere said. “If this problem isn’t fixed, DACA participants who currently hold a license will not be able to get a renewal, and this is devastating to individuals and harmful to employers who will lose a cosmetologist, a plumber, or an engineer or a nurse, to name a few. Indiana has boxed out these young people. This is an opportunity to fix that.”

In its original form, Senate Bill 419, authored by Sen. Blake Doriot, R-Syracuse, clarified that Indiana is the licensing authority for various professions rather than local municipalities. Local units of government may require additional permits, but not require additional licensing. While the original bill did not address Dreamers, it made a suitable home for Clere’s amendment to fix the DACA participants’ inability to get professional licensing.

Gov. Eric Holcomb weighed in on the proposal to restore professional licensing to Dreamers, saying in a Feb. 27 statement, “Ultimately, Congress needs to clarify federal immigration law regarding DACA. But until they act, Indiana state law should allow DACA recipients to skill up and work here in Indiana. While Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency acted appropriately and in line with what our current laws require, I am encouraged to see there is legislative intent to fix this.”

Current Indiana law allows DACA participants to work legally in Indiana, but keeps them from working in an area that requires a professional licensing, which Clere says relegates them, in many cases, to low-wage jobs.

Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director who serves as the public policy spokesperson for the bishops in Indiana, testified in support of the amendment to restore licensure. “We want to thank Rep. Clere, who took the initiative to add this important provision to help Dreamers gain access to professional licensing or to renew them,” he said. “We not only think it will be in the best interest of the individuals, but it really will be benefitting all Hoosiers by allowing these people to take care of their families and contribute to the common good.”

In addition to the ICC, several other organizations testified in support of the proposal, including the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, the Indianapolis and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and the Indiana Institute for Working Families.

Tebbe said because the bill was amended in the House, it returns to the Senate for approval. He is hopeful the Senate will concur with the House changes during the final week of the legislative session.

For more information on the legislative efforts of the ICC, go to www.indianacc.org.
 

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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