PHOENIX — Arizona’s “dreamers” will keep their licenses to drive — at least as long as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program exists.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the last-ditch plea by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to uphold a 2012 executive order by then-Gov. Jan Brewer to deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients, an order current Gov. Doug Ducey has left in place.
The justices gave no reason for their ruling.
Monday’s ruling ends years of efforts by Arizona to claim that the Obama administration’s 2012 decision to allow those in DACA — people who arrived in the United States illegally as children — to remain in the United States and work does not mean they are “authorized” to be here. The program recipients are known as “dreamers.”
It was shortly after Obama’s action that Brewer directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to deny licenses to DACA recipients. She cited a 1996 Arizona law that says state licenses are available only to those whose presence in this country is “authorized by federal law.”
Brewer argued that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has no legal authority to permit DACA recipients to remain and work.
That argument failed to convince federal appellate judges, who said Arizona cannot decide for itself who is legally entitled to be in the country. In fact, Judge Harry Pregerson wrote that the state policy “appears intended to express animus toward DACA recipients.”
With Monday’s high court action, that ruling is now final.
At last count, there were about 30,000 DACA recipients in Arizona. ADOT does not have current figures on how many were issued licenses while the case was pending. The last update, in April 2016, showed more than 21,000 DACA recipients with driver’s licenses.
Brewer said she was disappointed not only in Monday’s ruling but also in the fact that the Justice Department, now under the control of Donald Trump, whom she supported for president, asked the Supreme Court to reject Arizona’s petition.
“Obviously, they trampled all over the Tenth Amendment,” she said, citing the amendment that says powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution “are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” She called DACA “an illegal Obama executive action that trumped states’ rights.”
That essentially was the argument Brnovich made to the high court. He said the Office of Legal Counsel within the U.S. Department of Justice said in its own writing that DACA “does not establish any enforceable legal right to remain in the United States — and it may be revoked by immigration authorities at their discretion.”
Brewer said Monday’s ruling leaves two options going forward.
One is for Trump to rescind DACA, something the president has tried to do. But those efforts have so far been blocked by a federal judge. The Supreme Court has declined to intercede, meaning there will be no final decision before at least this fall.
The other, said Brewer, is for Congress to finally address the question, in statute, of whether DACA recipients should be allowed to stay.
That would not only make moot any question of whether they are “authorized” to be here but make it clear that they are entitled to the same rights and privileges, such as licenses, as other legal residents who are not citizens.
Brewer was not optimistic that might happen.
Brnovich echoed some of those sentiments, saying the justices “sidestepped the underlying issue of whether President Obama had the authority to create DACA.”
“It’s up to Congress now to determine how to address DACA policy and whether to provide recipients with a legally sound and lasting solution,” the attorney general said.
Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, which sued to overturn Brewer’s policy, had a different take.
“DACA recipients in Arizona can declare victory in our fight to end the state’s malicious attack that spanned six years and two governors and was aimed at stripping us of basic civil rights,” she said.