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‘Dreamers’ policy takes away drivers licenses from domestic violence victims

AZ Drivers license1Forced to surrender on “dreamers,” Gov. Jan Brewer is denying licenses to drive to a potentially more vulnerable group of migrants: domestic violence victims.

Attorney Karen Tumlin of the National Immigration Law Center acknowledged that the injunction issued last week by a federal judge requires only that Arizona issue licenses to those accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It does not specifically cover those in other federal deferred action programs who also have been denied licenses, including one that allows victims of domestic violence not in this country legally to remain so they can offer testimony at the trials of their attackers.

But Tumlin said the same legal logic that resulted in the injunction on dreamers applies to these victims. And she pointed out that Arizona had, in fact, licensed domestic violence victims until last year when the Department of Transportation changed its policy in an unsuccessful attempt to justify denying the licenses to dreamers.

“The notion that we would want to take away licenses from survivors who are … getting to and from work taking care of their children and keeping themselves safe from abusers is incredibly mean spirited,” Tumlin said. She said the move is particularly galling when the domestic violence victims had been getting licenses but were excluded only “to protect the discriminatory policy against dreamers which has now been clearly found unconstitutional by the court.”

Victor Viramontes, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, agreed that the order by U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell covers only DACA recipients.

“But Arizona is basically inviting additional legal challenges by taking these blatantly illegal positions,” he said.

Viramontes said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals already has said the 2012 executive order by Brewer declaring that dreamers do not meet the requirements of Arizona law to be licensed likely is illegal.

That’s what led to Campbell issuing the preliminary injunction. And Campbell has scheduled a Jan. 7 hearing to determine whether to formally declare the state’s action illegal and make that order permanent.

Viramontes said that order essentially tells Arizona that its actions since 2012 of denying licenses to deferred action recipients are illegal.

“So the writing’s on the wall here,” he said.

But gubernatorial spokesman Andrew Wilder said Brewer and ADOT are doing exactly what has been ordered.

“The courts have come in and said, ‘these folks over here get the driver’s license,’ “ he said. And Wilder said Brewer has complied.

He said if the courts wanted domestic violence victims to also get licenses they could have ordered that, too. But he said Brewer sees no reason to go beyond the order.

“The majority of Arizonans stand with Gov. Brewer and what she has done and her actions to support the rule of law and defend the state against federal overreach,” Wilder said.

Tumlin said the move caught immigrant rights advocates by surprise because of the history of the legal fight.

Brewer’s edict to deny licenses to dreamers came after the Obama administration announced its policy in 2012 to allow those who arrived in this country illegally as children and were younger than 30 at the time to remain and work. Brewer said an administrative decision not to deport did not mean their presence was “authorized by federal law” as required by a 1996 state statute.

Attorneys for the dreamers sued, claiming the Arizona policy interferes with the right of the federal government to set immigration policy.

That argument did not gain traction. But Campbell was more interested in the fact that Arizona had for years provided licenses to those in other deferred action programs, like one for domestic violence victims.

During a hearing last year, there was testimony that perhaps 500 such licenses had been issued. That resulted in a preliminary conclusion by Campbell that the policy toward dreamers ran afoul of constitutional equal protection requirements.

In response, the state law year, without prior publicity, stopped issuing licenses to other deferred action recipients. They then argued to Campbell there is no longer a basis for an equal protection claim.

That action, however, failed to stop the 9th Circuit from directing Campbell to order Arizona to start providing licenses to dreamers. But now, forced to do that, Arizona won’t restore the licenses to those who had qualified before.

Tumlin said that’s not right.

“The idea that the group that Gov. Brewer has decided to keep excluded here is survivors of domestic violence who have cooperated with law enforcement is absurd,” she said.

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