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Az Dreamers one step closer to driver's licenses

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused Gov. Jan Brewer's request to delay a ruling that struck down Arizona's bar on issuing driver's licenses to young immigrants who have been granted deferred action status. The latest move by the courts means those "Dreamers" will likely be eligible for licenses in a week.

Brewer had asked the court to stay a July ruling to allow for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In July, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit found that Arizona's policy of denying licenses to specific categories of immigrants would likely be found unconstitutional, issuing a preliminary injunction against enforcing the policy.

Last month, the full court denied a request for a rehearing on the issue.

Brewer had appealed the case after a May 2013 ruling in federal district court against denying licenses to those who have received permission to remain in the country under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which began in 2012. The program allows immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to stay in the country under renewable two-year terms. 

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.

The 9th Circuit judges rejected Brewer's latest request without comment Tuesday. Brewer has a week to request that the Supreme Court intervene in the case, before a district judge orders the Arizona Department of Transportation to issue licenses to DACA recipients who are otherwise eligible to drive.

"We discern no rational relationship between Defendants’ policy and a legitimate state interest," wrote Judge Harry Pregerson in the July decision.

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The unanimous 40-page decision ordered the case be sent back to a lower court, where U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell had denied an injunction in a suit filed on behalf of those in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The appeal court's remand directed Campbell to order the state Department of Transportation to provide licensees to DACA recipients, saying that the plantiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their case in a full trial.

Arizona law bars issuing a license to anyone whose presence is not "authorized under federal law."

Until August 2012, the state Department of Transportation listed federal employment authorization documents as proving such an authorized presence.

On Aug. 15, 2012, Brewer issued an executive order that meant state officials could not accept work papers from DACA deferred action recipients, who are immigrants who were brought here illegally as children who are allowed to stay in the United States for renewable two-year terms without fear of being deported.

Immigrants covered under the program are required to apply for work authorization documentation, which can be used to apply for a driver’s license in Arizona. But Brewer’s order stopped that.

After a suit was filed, the state again changed its policies, refusing to issue licenses to recipients of some other forms of deferred action, including crime victims and domestic violence survivors. Officials said that meant the policy did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as claimed in the suit.

"We hold that Plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm unless Defendants’ policy is enjoined," the appeals judge wrote. The state policy is a major barrier to employment for people who are required to apply for work permits under DACA, the court said. Further, the policy means the state impermissably "assumes for itself the federal prerogative of classifying noncitizens."

Because Arizona issues licenses to some who fall under other types of deferred action programs, the policy is an equal protection violation, the court ruled.

"In both cases, the federal government has allowed noncitizens to remain in the United States, has pledged not to remove them during the designated period, and has authorized them to work in this courtry," the judge wrote.

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Brewer's policy "appears intended to express animus toward DACA recipients themselves, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them. Such animus, however, is not a legitimate state interest," the court said.

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Arizona driver’s licenses do not comply with the federal Real ID Act, which requires tamper-proof measures, specific data and sharing of that data between states – a security concern that led the state to refuse to comply.

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 month, 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.