PHOENIX — Arizona will stop issuing driver’s licenses to some domestic-violence victims and others who are in the country illegally — and remain with the permission of the federal government — rather than provide licenses to “dreamers.”
In a federal court filing, attorneys for Gov. Jan Brewer and the Arizona Department of Transportation did not dispute that the state has provided licenses in the past to some people who are not lawfully present in this country, despite a state law making that makes lawful presence a requirement.
Testimony during a court hearing found more than 500 such licenses.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell already said it may be unconstitutional for the state to deny that same right to those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program announced by the Obama administration last year.
The new ADOT policy, never publicly announced, rescinds its own long-standing practice of granting licenses to those in other deferred-action programs, including victims of domestic violence who the Department of Homeland Security has said can remain.
Karen Tumlin, attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, called the state’s move “absurd.”
“Unfortunately, the state of Arizona, in its myopic desire to discriminate against ‘dreamers,’ against young immigrants, has also now targeted survivors of domestic violence,” she said.
Tumlin called the state’s move “anti-woman.”
“A woman trying to flee her domestic abuser cannot get in the car to do so anymore in the state of Arizona,” she said. Tumlin said the federal Violence Against Women Act specifically allows federal immigration officials to put such women who are in this country illegally into deferred-action programs.
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, called Tuesday’s move “clearly vindictive and politically motivated.” Soler said the governor is cutting off access by others to driver’s licenses solely to try to undermine the lawsuit.
“It really demonstrates her animus toward ‘dreamers’ and her intent on punishing other groups of immigrants simply to make a political point,” she said.
Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder would not discuss the move. He issued a prepared statement saying the change in policy affects only those who “cannot demonstrate authorized presence under federal law.” But Wilder would not explain why ADOT had, until now, granted licenses to those in other “deferred-action” programs.
The legal fight stems from the decision last year by the Obama administration not to deport certain people brought here illegally as children. Those who qualify will be allowed to stay for two years — permission that is renewable — and be issued documents allowing them to work while they are here.
About 1.4 million people nationwide may qualify, including 80,000 in Arizona. The most recent figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show that more than 15,000 Arizonans already have been accepted into the DACA program.
But ADOT, on order from Brewer, refused to issue licenses to anyone in the DACA program.
The governor cites a 1996 state law that says licenses are available solely to those whose presence in this country is “authorized by federal law.” Brewer takes the position an administrative decision by the president and the Department of Homeland Security not to deport them, and to give them work papers, does not make their presence “authorized.”
Challengers first argued that allowing Arizona to deny licenses to those in the DACA program illegally conflicts with federal law and policy. They also contend Congress specifically empowered Homeland Security to not only prioritize who to pursue but to grant permission for some who are in this country illegally to stay.
In a ruling earlier this year, Campbell rejected that claim, saying nothing in Brewer’s decision interferes with the ability of Congress to set federal immigration policy. And he refused to issue an order requiring the state to immediately start issuing licenses to those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order.
But the judge said he is willing to consider the alternate claim that the challengers, five individuals accepted into the DACA program, are the victims of unequal legal treatment. He noted that DACA is not the only type of deferred-action program of the Department of Homeland Security — and those in the other programs have been given state driver’s licenses.
In his legal filing Tuesday, Douglas Northup, the governor’s attorney, did not dispute that the change in policy is directly related to the lawsuit. Northup said the state informed the court back in March, while he was trying to have the lawsuit thrown out, that it was considering revising the policy.
ACLU attorney Jennifer Chang Newell said the move won’t work.
“Their policy is still unconstitutional,” she said. “It’s still discriminatory.”
And Newell said she believes Campbell will see through it. “Governor Brewer can put as much lipstick on this pig as she wants to,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s still a pig.”