While defending its decision to deny driver’s licenses to children who entered the country illegally as children with their parents, Arizona has decided to grant licenses to undocumented residents who are family of military personnel.
A Department of Homeland Security “parole in place” law now applies to the undocumented spouses, children and parents of military personnel residing in Arizona, the state’s Department of Transportation said this week.
The “parole” policy, issued by the DHS in November, gives immigrants a pathway to residency, allowing them to apply for a green card without returning to their home country. They formerly would have been barred from returning to the U.S. for up to 10 years.
Reports indicate that 17,000 Arizona residents have been approved for parole.
At the same time, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer argued against giving licenses to undocumented immigrants who received deferred action under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act. State law requires non-citizens to have legal presence before obtaining a driver’s license, which she argues only Congress can grant.
Immigrant advocacy groups are filing for an appeal on the decision, arguing that the state is in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, through its discriminatory state policies.
“I’m sure this is Brewer and ADOT’s way of trying to appear compassionate and supporting the military and military families and all that,” said Kelly Flood, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona. “But their reasoning doesn’t make any real legal sense to us.”
While both laws authorize people who came to the country illegally to stay, the state of Arizona sees a distinction between those eligible for “parole” and those who qualify for deferred action.
“Deferred action is the discretionary decision not to enforce federal immigration law with respect to an individual or group,” said ADOT spokesman Timothy Tait.
On the other hand, “Parole increases an individual’s chance of eventually obtaining a ‘green card,’” Tait said.
Victor Viramontes, attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that both forms of authorization are equally permissible according to federal law.
“Prosecutorial discretion, a form of deferred action, is a form of authorized presence,” he said. “They’re making up distinctions that have no support in federal law.”