PHOENIX - Saying she wants to clarify what she believes is obvious, a Phoenix lawmaker wants to amend state law to let thousands of illegal immigrants in the president's deferred-action program get Arizona driver's licenses.
Rep. Catherine Miranda, a Democrat, said Thursday that she believes when the Department of Homeland Security said some illegal immigrants could be given work permits, that is tantamount to saying they are authorized to be here. And Miranda said that means being able to drive.
Gov. Jan Brewer disagrees and last year barred the state Motor Vehicle Division from issuing those in the program licenses. Brewer believes the policy announced by President Obama says only those eligible for the program will not be deported, not that they are authorized to be in this country.
HB 2032 would overrule Brewer's action.
While Miranda said her bill just clarifies those individuals are authorized under federal law, Brewer said Thursday that Miranda's legislation actually shows Arizona law, as it now exists, does not permit those in what is known as the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival program, or "Dreamers," to be licensed.
"If people decide they want to change the law, they can move forward and do that," Brewer said, though she declined to say if she would sign the legislation if it reaches her desk.
"I'm the governor; I took an oath to uphold the law," she continued. "The law is they are not entitled to driver's licenses."
Eventually the question will be decided in federal court.
Earlier this week, attorneys for the state asked U.S. District Judge David Campbell to dismiss a challenge to Brewer's interpretation brought by multiple immigrant-rights groups.
Under DACA, the government will not pursue and deport those otherwise illegal immigrants who are under 30 and arrived in this country before turning 16, have lived here continuously for at least five years and are either in school or have graduated or are an honorably discharged veteran.
As of the end of December, the Department of Homeland Security had received nearly 368,000 applications nationwide, including nearly 13,000 in Arizona. The agency does not say how many of these have been granted.
Attorneys for the state estimate up to 80,000 people living in Arizona might ultimately be eligible.
Those who are eligible are entitled to a federally issued permit to work legally in this country.
In court filings this week, attorneys for the state told Campbell the DACA program has no legal basis, but is simply an "administrative choice to temporarily defer removal of an unlawful alien."
"This discretion cannot regularize someone's immigration status or grant a benefit that an alien is not legally entitled to receive," wrote attorney Douglas Northup, who is heading the legal team for the state.
Northup also pointed out that a spokesman for Homeland Security specifically said DACA does not "authorize" anyone to be present in this country.
A 1996 Arizona law specifically requires proof the person's presence in the United States "is authorized under federal law," to get a license.
Separately, Northup pointed out that the Obama administration has said those given deferred action status are not entitled to any other rights. He said that would be undermined by forcing Arizona to provide licenses.
An Arizona driver's license is accepted as identification to seek a variety of federal and state public benefits, Northup said, so giving licenses to someone who is not eligible could allow them to use it "to obtain public benefits to which they are not entitled."
Attorney Dan Pochoda of the American Civil Liberties Union disputed Brewer's contention that Miranda's effort to change the law is an acknowledgement the current law makes DACA participants ineligible for licenses. He said a change in the law is just a quicker way to clarify what is allowed.