A class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and an alliance of immigration advocacy groups on Thursday will seek to force the state of Arizona to offer drivers licenses to young undocumented immigrants taking part in a federal deferred deportation program.
The suit, (PDF) filed in a federal district court in Arizona, accuses Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and officials at the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) of singling out Latino immigrants who received two-year visas as part of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which he signed into effect over the summer.
But under an executive order signed by Brewer in August, said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney for the Los Angeles office of the National Immigration Law Center, DACA participants are specifically barred from being eligible for drivers licenses, even though the program provides Social Security numbers and work permits, which are normally accepted by ADOT, even for non-residents.
“That has happened both before and since the executive order,” Tumlin told The Raw Story. “There are lots of categories for deferred action. But what this is, is a singling out of these young people who are the beneficiary of the Obama administration by Governor Brewer. She’s not disagreeing with deferred action in general, but for this immigrant youth.”
The Arizona Republic reported last month that Brewer’s administration had issued more than 1,000 licenses to non-residents with work permits while denying them to immigrants enrolled in DACA.
According to the lawsuit, about 80,000 undocumented immigrants are estimated to qualify for the program, and many of them, including the six individual plaintiffs, were either born to undocumented parents or moved to the U.S. as children and have lived and studied here ever since.
DACA guidelines state that immigrants must be younger than 31 years of age with good criminal and scholastic records and must pay a $465 application fee for the program, which provides them with a Social Security number and a work visa if they are approved. While Brewer was quick to move against the program, other states like California, Oregon and Georgia have decided to make participants eligible for drivers licenses.
“We really believe that Arizona is an outlier here,” Tumlin said. “They are one of only a couple of states that may be denying licenses to these young people.”
Among the plaintiffs are groups like NILC, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the ACLU’s Immigration Rights Project, as well as six DACA participants from Arizona, some of whom had to give up work opportunities because they can’t get a license.
“These are folks who really call Arizona home, who intend to build their lives and raise their families and contribute to Arizona society,” Tumlin said. “And because of this wrong-headed policy, they’re getting denied that opportunity.”