Arizona reviewing its ban on driver’s licenses for immigrants

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and her legal team are reviewing whether they will continue denying driver’s licenses to young people who recently received immigration relief and work permits under a new Obama administration program.

“I know she would like to resolve this issue as quickly as possible but also needs time,” Brewer’s spokesman, Matthew Benson, said Thursday.

In August, Brewer issued an executive order banning driver’s licenses to some youths who had qualified for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program, which President Obama created through an executive order, protects some youths who are in the country illegally from deportation. In addition, it authorizes them to live and work in the United States for two years.


In most states, the deferred deportation has allowed thousands of young people to apply for driver’s licenses. Only a few states, including Arizona and Iowa, moved to issue a ban.

Brewer, who once called the program “backdoor amnesty,” had said that Obama’s executive order did not grant these youths “any lawful or authorized status and does not entitle them to any additional public benefit.”

On Wednesday, however, Iowa moved to reverse its ban after looking over new guidelines issued by the Obama administration.

The guidelines issued Friday clarified the matter, stating that those approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were considered by the Department of Homeland Security to be “lawfully present” in the country.

The new guidelines are also prompting the review in Arizona, Benson said.

As of Jan. 18, 154,404 youths had qualified for immigration relief and a two-year work permit under the program. It’s unclear whether the program will be continued beyond two years.

As of this week, there were only three states — Arizona, Nebraska and Michigan — denying driver’s licenses to those qualifying for the deferred deportation program.

Michael Tan, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, said he was hopeful there would be a change of course in Michigan, where officials were seeking clarity from the federal government.

“I think that Arizona is a different situation,” Tan said. There, he said, the denial of licenses goes beyond a desire for legal clarity and reflects hostile attitudes toward people who are in the country illegally. “There are certain states wanting to take immigration law matters in their own hands when they are not authorized to do so,” he said.

Tan and the ACLU were also behind a lawsuit launched in November against Brewer, challenging her executive order on driver’s licenses.


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