Photo: Gov. Jan Brewer
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to deny driver’s licenses to young undocumented immigrants who qualify for Deferred Action has drawn criticism from the ACLU, which says the move shows a failure to grasp the subtleties of immigration law.
“We think the governor is mistaken with respect to the driver’s licenses. This is an example of why states shouldn’t get involved in immigration law because they don’t have an understanding of the complexity of these types of laws,” Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told Efe Thursday.
Brewer on Wednesday signed a directive ordering state agencies to take immediate measures to prevent Deferred Action applicants from gaining access to Arizona driver’s licenses, identification cards and other public benefits.
Deferred Action, which was announced two months ago by President Barack Obama and took effect on Wednesday, offers qualified undocumented young people the chance to delay deportation for a renewable two-year period.
The program is seen as a temporary substitute for the long-stalled DREAM Act, which would grant permanent residence to successful applicants.
Brewer, a Republican, argues that Arizona law requires that all applicants for a driver’s license show proof of U.S. citizenship or legal status.
But Soler said there is a difference between “legal status” and “legal presence.”
She told Efe that applicants for an Arizona driver’s license must merely show proof of “legal presence” and if those individuals have a work permit issued by the federal government they also have the right to obtain a driver’s license while that permit is valid - two years in the case of a Deferred Action recipient.
“We see the governor has no understanding of federal and state immigration law. We believe that in the directive she signed she is also perpetuating myths to the effect that students will present false documents,” Soler said.
The ACLU of Arizona is analyzing ways to help people who have the right to have a driver’s license, according to that organization’s executive director.
“First we want to see the implications of this executive order, what measures the Motor Vehicle Division will take and we’ll analyze the options,” Soler said.
News that the state would be denying driver’s licenses to “DREAMers” fell like a bucket of cold water on hundreds of young people in Arizona who were preparing to gather paperwork showing proof of eligibility for Deferred Action.
“I can’t believe the governor is going against Arizona residents. There have already been several surveys indicating that 70 percent support the DREAM Act. This is another opportunity for us to stand up,” Dulce Matuz, director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, told Efe.
The “DREAMers” gathered Wednesday and Thursday outside the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix to protest Brewer’s decision.
“We have to fight and keep protecting the dream,” said Matuz, who in April was named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Arizona became ground zero in the national debate over illegal immigration when Gov. Brewer signed the controversial SB 1070 bill into law in the spring of 2010.
The Supreme Court earlier this year struck down three elements of that legislation, but left standing a provision requiring police to verify the immigration status of suspected undocumented migrants stopped in the course of enforcing other laws.
The Obama administration had challenged the controversial measure on the grounds that Arizona was trying to usurp the federal government’s power to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
SB 1070 has served as a model for other harsh immigration legislation approved in Alabama, Utah, Indiana, South Carolina and Georgia.