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Arizona continues fight over licenses for 'Dreamers'

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Arizona continues fight over licenses for 'Dreamers'

  • ADOT

New Attorney General Mark Brnovich has resumed Arizona's legal battle to deny driver's licenses for young immigrants covered by the federal government's deferred action program. 

In a legal filing Friday, Brnovich appealed an order by U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell from December that the state must give licenses to young adult immigrants known as "Dreamers" — those living in Arizona and covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

A request for comment on the legal move from either Gov. Doug Ducey's office or the attorney general's office went unanswered. 

"Enough is enough," said Arizona Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron.

With the repeat of the appeal, Brnovich "is carrying on in the unfortunate tradition of his predecessor Tom Horne by wasting taxpayer time, money and legal credibility to appeal to a small faction of extreme ideological supporters," Tameron said in a press release Friday afternoon.

Campbell's decision last year overturned a 2012 executive order by then-Gov. Jan. Brewer, which blocked state officials from accepting work papers from DACA recipients. 

As Arizona had barred issuing a license to anyone not "authorized under federal law," DACA recipients found themselves legally able to remain in the state and work, but unable to drive. 

The protracted legal battle has wound through the U.S. court system, first through a three-judge panel, through the Ninth Circuit under Campbell, and then ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

On Dec. 17, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected a last-minute appeal to block "Dreamers" from getting licenses and kicked the decision back to Campbell. 

This set up a final decision on Dec. 19, when Campbell ordered the state to grant licenses beginning the following Monday. 

The case affects at least 22,000 in Arizona who were granted work permits under President Barack Obama's 2012 decision to grant deferrals for young people from immigration proceedings and deportation.

The state reacted immediately after the president had announced the 2012 DACA program. 

Before August 2012, the state Department of Transportation listed federal employment authorization documents as proving an authorized presence that allowed a driver's license to be issued.

However, on Aug. 15, 2012, Brewer issued an executive order telling state officials they 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. 

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. This change attempted to keep the policy from violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as claimed in the suit.

An appeals judge rejected this. 

"We hold that Plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm unless Defendants’ policy is enjoined," the 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 country," the judge wrote.

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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