Immigrant rights advocates filed a lawsuit Thursday that seeks to overturn Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s order denying driver’s licenses for young immigrants who have gotten work permits and avoided deportation under a new Obama administration policy. The lawsuit alleges the state has in effect classified young-adult immigrants as not having permission to be in the country and asks a federal judge to declare Brewer’s policy unconstitutional because it’s trumped by federal law and denies licenses without valid justification.
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, said Brewer is playing politics with the young immigrants. “This is another example of the state of Arizona thumbing its nose at the federal government,” Soler said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in August that each state could determine whether to issue driver’s licenses or extend benefits such as in-state tuition to immigrants who are granted deferred status. Some states, such as Oregon and Nevada, have announced that they will grant driving privileges to those eligible for the new program. Others, such as Arizona and Michigan, have vowed to deny them.
Brewer spokesman Matt Benson said the governor has a duty to defend a state law that limits public benefits and driver’s licenses to people who are in the country legally and that the young immigrants who received the deferred deportation aren’t in the country legally. Benson said Obama’s program isn’t congressionally authorized as other federal deferred deportation programs are.
“The legal limbo now faced by (the Obama program’s) recipients is not due to any action by the state of Arizona or Arizona voters,” Benson said. “Rather, it is due to President Obama’s decision to pursue this program via executive action rather than through the proper legislative process.”
The governor has clashed with the Obama administration in the past over illegal immigration, most notably in the challenge that the federal government filed in a bid to invalidate Arizona’s 2010 immigration law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law’s most contentious section, but threw out other sections.
Lawyers for three civil rights groups that led a challenge to the 2010 state law also filed the lawsuit over Brewer’s driver’s license policy.