Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against Arizona to overturn the state’s policy of refusing to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who receive permission to stay in the country and work under the Obama Administration's deferred deportation program.
The legal challenge -- filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center -- marks the latest in a series of state-level fights over how to deal with people who arrived in the country illegally as children, but have federal permission to stay in the country and work under new deportation guidelines implemented by President Obama in June.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order on Aug. 15 saying her state would not grant driver’s licenses and other state benefits to those who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Brewer made the announcement on the first day that the federal government began accepting DACA applications.
"Federal immigration authorities have lifted the shadow of deportation from these bright and hardworking DREAMers, but Arizona insists on pursuing its own immigration policy aimed at keeping them in the dark," Jennifer Chang Newell, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a press release.
Prior to Obama's directive and Brewer's order, Arizona had issued driver's licenses to the small number of undocumented immigrants granted deferred action status by the federal government, according to the lawsuit. The REAL ID Act of 2005, a federal law, renders undocumented immigrants who qualify for deferred deportation eligible for driver’s licenses, according to USA Today.
The class action lawsuit filed in Arizona Thursday’s is the first in the nation to challenge a state policy denying licenses to deferred deportation beneficiaries, according to The Arizona Republic.
Arizona's practice of denying driver's licenses to DACA recipients seeks to negate the federal government's decision to authorize DACA-eligible DREAMers to remain in the United States, interferes with the goals and function of the DACA program, and harms and unlawfully discriminates against Individual Plaintiffs and all other similarly situated individuals residing in Arizona.
However, Arizona is not the only state trying to keep driver’s licenses out of the hands of beneficiaries of the administration's deferred deportation program. The governors of Nebraska and Texas followed in Brewer’s footsteps. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is continuing a longstanding political battle to overturn a state law that allows all undocumented immigrants to qualify for driver’s licenses.
Other states, like California and Washington, have said they’ll give ID’s to those who qualify for DACA. Nevada became the latest state to support the same approach, with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval backing the policy, the Las Vegas Sun reported Thursday.
States are also grappling with the issue of whether DACA beneficiaries should qualify for in-state tuition. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick directed public universities in his state earlier this month to give tuition breaks to immigrants who qualify for DACA.
Four states, including Arizona, have laws that specifically prohibit undocumented immigrants from paying in-state tuition, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Alabama and South Carolina bar the undocumented from attending public colleges, regardless of how much tuition they pay.