Arizona’s policy of denying thousands of Arizonans in a deferred action program access to driver’s licenses is contrary to federal law, the Obama administration said today.
In a court filing, attorneys for the Department of Justice told federal appellate judges that Arizona has no legal right to decide that some people the federal government allows to remain in this country are “authorized” to be here and that others are not. The lawyers said that as far as the federal government is concerned, all are equal under the law — and all are entitled to the same rights and privileges, including licenses.
“Arizona may not substitute its judgment for the federal government’s when it comes to establishing classifications of alien status,’’’ wrote Assistant Attorney General Lindsey Powell for the administration.
The filing could prove crucial to whether courts decide to void a 2012 executive order issued by Gov. Jan Brewer directing the state Department of Transportation not to give licenses to DACA recipients.
In that order, Brewer said a 1996 state law says licenses are available only to those whose presence in the country is “authorized by federal law.” She has taken the position that the DACA program confers no legality on those in it but simply says they will not be pursued or deported.
But if federal courts accept today’s arguments by the Obama administration, that undermines Brewer’s entire contention. And that would pave the way for a directive to ADOT to start issuing licenses to the nearly 21,000 Arizona residents who already have been accepted into the DACA program.
The DACA program is available to those brought to this country illegally as children but who had not yet turned 30 when the president announced it. They are allowed to stay and work for two years, permission which is renewable if they meet other conditions.
A trial judge had rejected claims by immigrant rights groups that the “dreamers” are entitled to licenses. But earlier this year a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said there was enough evidence to lead them to believe that Brewer was acting contrary to law. The appellate court ordered the trial judge to direct the state to start issuing licenses.
That never happened, with the trial judge noting that Brewer had asked the full 9th Circuit to review the earlier ruling.
Before making that decision, the judges said they first wanted the input of the Department of Justice on the administration’s position on the legal arguments.
Today’s filing give that to them, along with an argument by the administration on why they should let the decision of the three-judge panel stand.