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Homeland Security chief: Licenses for deferred-action participants good for state

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PHOENIX – With participants in the federal deferred action program now able to get driver’s licenses in Arizona, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said Wednesday it’s important for immigrants to follow through.

“A program that encourages them to come forward and be accountable is good for the economy because it gets people on the books,” Johnson said after giving a presentation on border security at Arizona State University’s downtown campus. “They’re paying taxes. And legitimate employment.”

Gov. Jan Brewer decided against allowing driver’s licenses for those who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which lets qualified immigrants who were born after June 15, 1981, remain and work in the United States. But a federal judge overturned that ban in December.

Johnson, in town to inspect Super Bowl security measures, said there are approximately 11.3 million people living in the United States illegally, but he said the so-called Dreamers are “low-priority” for deportation.

“The reality is no administration, Republican or Democrat, is going to deport 11 million people,” Johnson said during an interview with Cronkite News. “They’re there and they’re not going away. So from my perspective, better to encourage them to come forward, submit to background checks, start paying taxes.”

Johnson said having those immigrants on the books through driver’s licenses is also good from a policing and homeland security point of view because it encourages people to participate in law enforcement.

“We want people to report crime,” he said. “If somebody’s been the victim of crime, I want that person to report it to law enforcement. Or from the homeland security law enforcement perspective, I want to know who people are in this country.”