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Court: Az must give driver's licenses to Dreamers

Thousands of young adults known as "dreamers" may be able to get driver's licenses in Arizona after a federal appeals court rejected a request by the state for a new hearing on Monday.

The full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider a July order by a three-judge panel that Arizona had illegally denied licenses to those who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program allows immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to stay in the country under renewable two-year terms. 

“Gov. Brewer has wasted countless taxpayer dollars defending a misguided and harmful policy that has been rejected time and time again by the courts. We hope today’s announcement allows us to finally apply for the identification document that rightly identifies us as Arizonans," said Dulce Matuz, preisdent of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition and a plaintiff in the case.

Over the summer, a three-judge panel said there was no legitimate interest in treating the Dreamers differently. Arguing that the state's policy appears to be motivated by animosity to the young immigrants and is likely unconstitutional, the court ordered an injunction blocking Gov. Jan Brewer's 2012 executive order.

"We discern no rational relationship between defendants’ policy and a legitimate state interest," wrote Judge Harry Pregerson for the panel.

In August 2012, Brewer ordered state officials not accept work papers from DACA deferred action recipients. As Arizona bars issuing a license to anyone not "authorized under federal law," the DACA recipients found themselves able to stay in the state, but unable to drive. 

After the suit was filed, the state tried to avoid accusations that the policy violated the Equal Protection Clause by refusing to issue licenses to recipients of some other forms of deferred action, including crime victims and domestic violence survivors. 

Before refusing Arizona's request, the court invited the federal government to offer its own opinion on the issue. In a brief, federal officials said that Arizona's policy was unconstitutional and opposed a new hearing.

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The state could continue to pursue the case by going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Deferred action criteria

 While those who receive deferred action status are commonly referred to as "Dreamers," the 2012 program is different than the proposed DREAM Act.

To be eligible for DACA, immigrants must have come to the United States before the age of 16 and have been under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012; they must have been living in the United States when DACA was announced and have continuously resided in the United States for at least the previous five years; and they must have graduated from high school, or obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces or the Coast Guard, or be currently enrolled in school. Additionally, they must not pose any threat to public safety: anyone who has been convicted of multiple misdemeanors, a single significant misdemeanor, or any felony offense is ineligible for DACA.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced an expansion of the DACA program, along with a slew of other executive actions on immigration enforcement. Under the new program, deferred status will last for three years, and the expansion covers all children who entered before Jan. 1, 2010, regardless of their current age.