A coalition of civil rights groups filed a class action suit in federal court today, challenging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s executive order denying drivers licenses to young undocumented immigrants granted work permits through President Obama’s deferred action program. The suit is latest in a line of legal challenged against the Arizona governor who’s made a name for herself as a supporter of anti-immigrant legislation and an opponent of the Obama administration.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which Pres. Obama issued in June, allows some young undocumented immigrants who came the country as children to stay in the country with authorization to work. In most states this authorization means recipients can also apply for driver’s licenses.
But on August 15, the day the federal government began accepting DACA applications, Gov. Brewer issued exec. order 2012-06, barring her state agencies from providing services or offering programs to recipients of deferred action. This includes the Arizona Department of Transportation, which now denies licenses to immigrants presenting DACA documents.
There are approximately 80,000 young people in Arizona eligible to apply for relief from deportation under the program.
The complaint, filed today by the American Civil Liberties, the National Immigrant Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of five named undocumented defendants and the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition claims that the ban makes it “difficult, if not impossible for [DACA recipients] to accomplish essential aspects of daily life” like getting to work, school or medical appointments.
In addition to Gov. Brewer, the complaint names as defendants John Halikowski, the director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, and Stacy Stanton, assistant director of the department’s Motor Vehicle Division. The two state officials applied Brewer’s order to deny licenses to DACA recipients.
Alejandra Lopez is one of the plaintiffs in the case. Lopez, 19, came to the United States when he was four and is raising her baby son and her four and 15-year-old brothers. She was granted deferred action, but without a license was turned down from a job that required a commute by car.
The complaint claims the executive order violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which grants the federal government power over immigration lawmaking, and the Equal Protection Clause, by denying licenses “without any valid justification, including even a rational basis.”
Gov. Brewer’s executive order barred DACA recipients from all state services, asserting that a grant of deferred action though the particular Obama Administarion program does not amount to proof legitimate immigration status.
“The Deferred Action program does not and cannot confer lawful or authorized status upon the unlawful alien applicants,” Brewer said in her order.
But the executive order contradicts existing Arizona law, which regularly grants licenses to immigrants with permission to be present and work in the country.
“It’s not up to the states to decide for themselves that DACA recipients are not authorized when the federal government has said that they are,” Jennifer Chang Newell, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project told Colorlines.com. “Hopefully we can help ensure that other states keep issuing licenses and don’t follow Arizona.”
The suit, announced today at a press conference in Tempe, AZ, is the latest challenge from these and other civil rights groups against Arizona and Gov. Brewer for violating the rights of immigrants and overstepping state authority.
The three groups are currently involved in a civil rights suit against Arizona’s SB 1070, the “show me your papers” law.