Luis Ruelas was all smiles with his sister Lesly at the Motor Vehicle Division office on Tucson’s south side as they waited with others to fill out driver’s license applications.
Judging from his high-fives with others in line and his cheerful mood, some might have thought he’d already passed the driver’s license test.
He hadn’t. But there were reasons for Ruelas to be excited.
Monday marked the first day that young immigrants protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could apply for driver’s licenses in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer has laid out several efforts to ban it.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week denied Brewer’s request to issue a stay on a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the state acted unconstitutionally in barring DACA recipients from getting driver’s licenses. The high court’s approval would have allowed her to continue denying “dreamers” licenses to drive.
Luis, 24, and Lesly Ruelas, 17, who said they were brought to the United States at ages 8 and 1 from Sinaloa, Mexico, were among the first dreamers in Tucson to apply Monday.
“For me, I feel accomplished,” Luis Ruelas said. Other states have legalized marijuana, but Arizona has taken too long to deny driver’s licenses to young people who have been authorized to work, he added.
Several other young dreamers waited in line and in the lobby of the MVD office on South Broadmont Drive for their numbers to be called.
Oneida Corrales, 21, and Alvaro Rodriguez, 20, were among those waiting in the lobby.
For many young immigrants, being able to get a driver’s license means they can drive legally and without fear, they said.
Many undocumented immigrants have to drive without licenses to get to work or school or do anything in their daily lives, said Rodriguez, who said he was brought to the United States from Agua Prieta, Sonora, when he was in third grade.
But driving without a license puts the dreamers at constant risk of deportation.
“You gotta always be careful,” Rodriguez said, adding many take the risk because it’s unavoidable.
Now, with the chance to get a driver’s license, Rodriguez said he would be able to drive legally. Of course, that would require passing the driving test, which Rodriguez was confident he could do.
Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Ryan Harding said MVD offices were “a little bit busier than normal” Monday.
About 22,000 DACA recipients are eligible to apply for driver’s licenses in Arizona.
“But we’ve been able to manage,” Harding added.