Last week Arizona’s new state Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced he would renew efforts to take driver’s licenses out of the hands of “Dreamers.”
The move to deny these immigrant youth the right to apply for a driver’s license started in 2012 as a challenge to President Obama’s executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Attorneys for the state of Arizona have maintained that DACA recipients are in this country illegally, and therefore ineligible for driver’s licenses.
Obama’s order directs the Department of Homeland Security to use discretion in granting temporary relief from deportation for up to two years to those who immigrants brought into the country without authorization as children.
The temporary permission to stay in the U.S. is called “deferred action.”
Former Arizona governor Jan Brewer contested the order and directed the state’s Department of Transportation not to issue licenses to DACA recipients. Since 2012 the matter has been embroiled in the courts. Then, in December 2014, a U.S. District Court ruled that denying licenses to DACA recipients was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state was then directed to issue licenses. Arizona braced for 20,000 to 22,000 DACA recipients to begin applying.
In most states, having a valid driver’s license is the only way to obtain car insurance. Insurance holds drivers accountable for driving safe, making our streets safer for all. And, regardless of one’s political stance on the issue, the fact is that uninsured drivers raise premiums for insured drivers.
In some parts of the nation, law enforcement officials have supported driver’s licenses for the undocumented, citing that the license testing improves public safety.
However, DACA recipients are no longer “undocumented.” Those who have registered under this program have been granted the legal right to remain and work in the United States.
Before the 2012 executive order to give the Dreamers temporary legal status, few states granted immigrants driving privileges. Now, after the order, all but two states (Arizona and Nebraska) issue licenses to DACA recipients.
A valid driver’s license is a uniquely important document in the United States. Unlike many other countries, the United States does not distribute or require a national identification document.
Driver’s licenses often serve as the de facto form of identification needed to complete many routine business and governmental transactions. Because of the importance placed on driver’s licenses for these additional purposes, those without them are particularly vulnerable to theft and exploitation.
In all of these ways, issuing DACA recipients a driver’s license makes perfect legal and practical sense, and it is unfortunate that the implications of not doing so is lost among lawmakers in Arizona. In this regard, the state’s effort to contest the December ruling by appealing to a higher court may settle the matter.
Opponents are quick to say that by granting the licenses those who have broken the law are being rewarded. They accuse the federal government of overreach and ignore the reality of how every day nearly a half-million Dreamers across the nation are already driving to and from school or work. They serve hundreds of employers who value their work and have no qualms about hiring them.
Allowing Dreamers to get a driver’s license will not only make the roads safer for all of us, it will also help integrate youthful aspirants into America’s economic future.