Updated guidelines by federal authorities could possibly open the door for young illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses in Arizona.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Friday that those who receive deferred action from deportation through President Barack Obama’s new immigration policy are considered to be lawfully present in the U.S.
Arizona currently bars deferred action recipients from obtaining state-issued driver’s licenses.
Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order last year barring illegal immigrants who receive federal work permits through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The order was based on the grounds that deferred action recipients aren’t authorized to be in the U.S. and therefore don’t meet requirements under state law for obtaining a state-issued driver’s license.
Brewer’s administration has yet to provide a detailed response to DHS’ new information.
“The governor and her legal team are reviewing this latest guidance from the federal government and are trying to determine the best path forward for the state of Arizona,” Brewer’s spokesman Matthew Benson told The Arizona Republic on Friday.
“It’s confirming what we said all along – that individuals granted deferred action are lawfully present in the US. and authorized by the federal government,” said Regina Jefferies, a Phoenix immigration lawyer who chairs the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said he hopes Brewer will reconsider her position in response to the updated guidelines.
“At the end of the day, almost every other state is interpreting it much differently than Gov. Brewer is,” Gallardo said. “It’s an issue of public safety. They (deferred action recipients) are already in our state, they are already going to school in our community and working in our community. Why aren’t we allowing them to be licensed and fully insured?”
Under Arizona’s law, residents must prove that their presence in the U.S. is “authorized under federal law” to be eligible for driver’s licenses.
The state already issues driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who get work permits through other forms of deferred action. But Brewer has refused driver’s licenses to those who receive work permits through Obama’s DACA program.
That prompted a group of immigrant and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union to file a class-action lawsuit against the state on behalf of deferred action recipients denied driver’s licenses.
The lawsuit argues that Brewer’s executive order is unconstitutional because it is superseded by federal law.
The suit also says Brewer’s order unjustly blocks undocumented immigrants who get federal work permits under Obama’s program from getting driver’s licenses because the state continues to give driver’s licenses to other non-citizens who get the same type of work permits through other forms of deferred action.