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Garcia: Why is Arizona standing alone in a Nebraska cornfield?
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Garcia: Why is Arizona standing alone in a Nebraska cornfield?

Arizona and Nebraska have a lot in common.

garcia_joe.jpgThere's "Corn Area Planted for All Purposes and Harvested for Grain, Yield, and Production," according to 2012 tallies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Agricultural Statistics Service:

  • 6,240,000 bushels of corn in Arizona
  • 1,292,200,000 bushels of corn in Nebraska

In all fairness, 2012 was an off year for corn in Nebraska, due to poor climate conditions.

So, OK, maybe there isn't a bushel full of similarities between the Grand Canyon State and the Cornhusker State (although I'm sure there's a GRE math question in there somewhere regarding "how many bushels of corn would it take …?").

Still, to their neighbors and peers, Arizona and Nebraska suddenly are looking like identical twins.

That's because Arizona and Nebraska are standing defiant, together alone, as the only two states that steadfastly refuse to grant driver's licenses to undocumented residents eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA – even though these so-called "Dreamers" have temporary legal work permits.

Maybe that's not too big of a deal in Nebraska, with its endless rows of corn. But in Arizona, with its endless roads and freeways to connect great distances between home and job, it matters.

A lot.

U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell last month denied a request for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked an executive order by Governor Jan Brewer that denies DACA individuals an Arizona driver's license, causing hardship for many of the estimated 80,000 Dreamers in Arizona.

It's important to note the judge did so on the grounds that, at least in this case involving state-issued driver's licenses, federal law does not trump state law, nor is the plaintiffs' claims of immediate harm so substantial that it requires a court injunction.

Judge Campbell suggested, however, that the eventual outcome well could go against the governor: "Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their equal-protection claim."

In other words, as the legal case progresses, Arizona appears to fail in fair application of the law by allowing driver's licenses for some immigrants with work permits but denying others with work permits – those recognized under DACA, the mini-Dreamers stop-gap executive memo issued by President Barack Obama a year ago come June 15.

Gov. Brewer claimed victory following the decision: "This portion of the ruling is not only a victory for the state of Arizona, it is a victory for states' rights, the rule of law and the bedrock principles that guide our nation's legislative process and the division of power between the federal government and states."

For much of the nation and for our No. 1 trading partner of Mexico, it also leaves Arizona once again on the outside looking in when it comes to establishing sensible and fair immigration reform.

More and more states are granting driver's license privileges to all undocumented immigrants – not just the Dreamers generation under DACA guidelines. Nevada became the fourth such state last month, following Oregon, Maryland and Colorado. Washington state and New Mexico have allowed driver's licenses for its undocumented residents for years.

At least 38 states presently recognize immigrants with DACA status as eligible for driver's licenses (and that's not counting states such as Washington or New Mexico, since no special exemption is necessary), with more states considering such legislation before breaking for summer.

Yet we stand alone (with Nebraska) in refusing to grant driver's licenses to certain undocumented immigrants with federal work permits.

If Arizona is trying to change its anti-immigrant image and heal its self-inflicted wounds caused by SB 1070 – state legislation that was largely gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court after being widely criticized both nationally and internationally – this obviously isn't going to do it.

As immigration reform continues on many fronts as a matter of political, practical and pragmatic necessity, other states and nations again will be left wondering what it is exactly Arizona is trying to sell.

Obviously, it isn't corn.

Postscript: Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida on last Tuesday surprised many by vetoing legislation that would have allowed beneficiaries of the DACA policy to seek driver’s licenses. The bill had passed the Florida House by a 115-2 vote and by the state Senate 36-0, so it is mostly Gov. Scott standing alone in the cornfield – especially given the fact that many DACA recipients in Florida already are eligible for temporary driver’s licenses under that state’s law, which allows non-citizens with federal work permits to apply.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

The director of communications for the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at ASU, Garcia is a longtime, award-winning journalist whose experience as a top editor, columnist and reporter included positions at The Arizona Republic, The Daily Times, Tucson Citizen, USA Today and The Associated Press.

Deferred action eligibility

Eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status is available to those who:

  • Are under age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Came to the United States before 16th birthday
  • Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time
  • Physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making request for consideration of deferred action with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012
  • Currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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