Arizona loses migrant license dispute

Court rules state can’t refuse driver’s IDs to some youths

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PHOENIX — A fed­eral ap­peals court has dealt a new blow to Ari­zona in its se­ries of im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated crack­downs, rul­ing that the state can­not deny driver’s li­censes to young im­mi­grants who are al­lowed to stay in the United States un­der a 2012 Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy.

Ari­zona was one of two states that re­fused to is­sue li­censes to the im­mi­grants, spark­ing the lat­est court fight over the is­sue.

Re­pub­li­can Gov. Jan Brewer called the rul­ing mis­guided and said she was con­sid­er­ing ap­peal.

The de­ci­sion fol­lows other high-pro­file bat­tles be­tween Ari­zona and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment over im­mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing court de­ci­sions that struck down much of a 2010 en­force­ment law but up­held its most hotly de­bated sec­tion, which re­quires po­lice to check im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances.

“We hope that this rul­ing sig­nals the end of what has been an un­for­tu­nate anti-im­mi­grant pe­riod in Ari­zona,” said Karen Tum­lin, one of the at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing the im­mi­grants. The de­ci­sion should re­move any bar­ri­ers young im­mi­grants face in get­ting a driver’s li­cense in Ari­zona, Ms. Tum­lin said.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in San Fran­cisco found that there was no le­git­i­mate state in­ter­est in treat­ing young im­mi­grants granted de­ferred ac­tion on de­por­ta­tion dif­fer­ently from other non­cit­i­zens who could ap­ply for driver’s li­censes. In­stead, the panel sug­gested that the pol­icy was in­tended to ex­press hos­til­ity to­ward the young im­mi­grants, in part be­cause of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy ac­com­mo­dat­ing them.

The rul­ing comes dur­ing a na­tional fo­cus on the topic, as tens of thou­sands of im­mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica — many of them un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren — have il­le­gally en­tered the coun­try in re­cent months, strain­ing the ca­pac­ity of de­ten­tion cen­ters along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in June 2012 took ad­min­is­tra­tive steps to shield thou­sands of im­mi­grants from de­por­ta­tion and ex­pand their le­gal rights. The move as­sists im­mi­grants younger than 30 who came to the U.S. be­fore turn­ing 16, have been in the coun­try for at least five con­tin­u­ous years, are en­rolled in or have grad­u­ated from a high school or a GED pro­gram or have served in the mil­i­tary. Aside from al­low­ing driver’s li­censes, ap­pli­cants also were al­lowed to pur­sue a two-year re­new­able work per­mit.

About 520,000 peo­ple have been ap­proved na­tion­ally to take part in the pro­gram, in­clud­ing about 19,000 in Ari­zona.

Reyna Mon­toya, 23, a Mesa, Ariz., res­i­dent who took part in the Obama pro­gram, said she feels that her in­abil­ity to get a driver’s li­cense has put her at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage as she searches for a teach­ing job. With­out a li­cense, Ms. Mon­toya said she is un­able to drive stu­dents to ex­tra­cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties — a ques­tion that is raised on job ap­pli­ca­tions.

Ms. Mon­toya re­gards Mon­day’s court de­ci­sion as a vic­tory for young im­mi­grants but noted that they still face bar­ri­ers in Ari­zona, in­clud­ing a 2006 voter-ap­proved law that de­nies cheaper in-state tu­i­tion and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance at pub­lic uni­ver­sities and com­mu­nity col­leges to im­mi­grants who are in the coun­try il­le­gally. “We are cel­e­brat­ing now, but we are go­ing to have to con­tinue to or­ga­nize,” Ms. Mon­toya said.

Ms. Brewer is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der in Au­gust 2012 di­rect­ing state agen­cies to deny driver’s li­censes and other pub­lic ben­e­fits to young im­mi­grants who get work au­tho­ri­za­tion un­der the de­ferred ac­tion pro­gram.

The ap­peals panel or­dered a lower court judge to is­sue a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion block­ing Ms. Brewer’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der while the case is lit­i­gated. It’s un­known how long it will take for the case to con­clude.

Ne­braska is the only other state to have made sim­i­lar de­ni­als, and a fed­eral judge this year dis­missed a law­suit con­test­ing the state’s pol­icy.

United States - North America - Arizona - Paul Davenport - Jan Brewer - Arizona state government


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