Arizona Continues To Deny Some Immigrants Licenses

By Jude Joffe-Block
December 22, 2014

PHOENIX - Some young immigrants in Arizona who qualify for the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program are celebrating the fact that they can now apply for driver’s licenses.

But other groups of immigrants who used to qualify for licenses are being left out.

On Monday, Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division offices began issuing driver’s licenses for the first time to young immigrants who received work permits under the DACA program.  

The policy change is the result of two years of litigation in federal courts.

The Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an advocacy group formed by young immigrants who came to this country illegally as children, sued Governor Jan Brewer for issuing an executive order that expressly denied DACA recipients licenses.

So far, the courts have ruled in the young activists’ favor. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to begin processing license applications for DACA recipients.

But before this lawsuit, the state of Arizona used to grant licenses to all immigrants with deferred action status who had received federal work permits.

That included women who are victims of domestic violence and some other immigrants who had received a reprieve from deportation, but do not have legal resident status.

The state stopped granting those licenses when DACA recipients argued in court that Arizona was treating them differently than other immigrants with work permits.

But now that courts have ordered Arizona to give DACA recipients licenses, the state hasn’t yet returned that right to other immigrants who have work permits.

Gubernatorial spokesman Andrew Wilder said Brewer and state employees are doing exactly what has been ordered.

"The courts have come in and said, 'These folks over here get the driver's license,'" he said, referring to DACA recipients.

Wilder said if the courts wanted domestic violence victims to also get licenses, they could have ordered that, too. But he said Brewer sees no reason to go beyond the order.

"The majority of Arizonans stand with Governor Brewer and what she has done," Wilder said. "Her actions to support the rule of law and defend the state against federal overreach.''

But some suggest that Arizona could run into more legal trouble by taking this position of denying another group of immigrants licenses.

"Arizona is basically inviting additional legal challenges by taking these blatantly illegal positions," said Victor Viramontes, a lawyer with the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund.

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.