As States Expand Driving Privileges For Immigrants, Arizona Bucks Trend
September 18, 2013

PHOENIX — Arizona announced a new policy Tuesday to further restrict state driver’s licenses for certain categories of immigrants that the federal government has authorized to work. The change comes as other states in the Southwest are easing the way for more immigrants to legally drive.

More than a year ago, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced young immigrants who qualify for federal work permits under a new Obama administration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would not be able to get state driver’s licenses. 

Under DACA, certain immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children and are under the age of 31 can get two-year work permits and a temporary reprieve from deportation.

As Arizona’s ban on licenses for those immigrants is being challenged in federal court, the state broadened license restrictions to other categories of immigrants who have federal work permits under two other federal programs known as deferred action and deferred enforcement departure.

Karen Tumlin of the National Immigration Law Center said many of the immigrants who qualify for deferred action are victims of domestic violence.

“We are talking about folks who have submitted petitions to the U.S. government, and the U.S. government has approved those petitions saying, ‘Yes, you were a victim, you are survivor of abuse, and for that reason we are granting you permission to be in the country,’” Tumlin said. “These are the people Governor Brewer has decided yesterday should not be entitled to licenses.”

Tumlin is one of the attorneys challenging Arizona’s ban on driver's licenses for DACA recipients.

The new license policy for other categories of immigrants was authored by the Arizona Department of Transportation and was revealed in court filings on Tuesday.

In an email, ADOT said the DACA program prompted a review of which federal work permits the agency would accept as primary forms of identification.

ADOT will no longer accept work permits from immigrants granted deferred action or deferred enforced departure as a primary form of identification to get a license. Immigrants who fall under those categories who previously were granted licenses will not be able to renew them when they expire.

ADOT declined to do a recorded interview, but a spokesman said the agency would not be revoking any licenses before they expire.

Under Arizona statute, driver’s license applicants must show proof they have authorization to be in the country under federal law.

According to an email from ADOT, “When an individual is granted relief under DACA, deferred action, or deferred enforced departure, that individual remains subject to removal proceedings pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act. An individual granted one of these forms of relief therefore does not have authorized presence under federal law.”

But that analysis – that these immigrants are not authorized to be in the country -- is a point of contention under dispute in the pending lawsuit.

“Arizona doesn’t get to make that decision,” Tumlin said. “Who is authorized to be in the country is a question of federal law. And that is a determination for the federal government. And the federal government has spoken quite clearly that these people are authorized to be in the country.”

Meanwhile, neighboring states are moving in the other direction.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign a bill that would grant state driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Beginning in 2014, Nevada will issue “driver’s privilege cards” to that category of immigrants.

The change in Arizona comes after a federal judge indicated Arizona’s policy of refusing licenses to DACA recipients while granting licenses to immigrants who qualify for deferred action was discriminatory.