John Roberts had recently moved to Waddell, Ariz., when he tried to obtain a new driver’s license. Employees of the state’s Motor Vehicle Division denied him the license because they refused to accept his valid license from his former home state, Kansas.
“I was told, ‘We don’t accept driver’s licenses from other states,’” Roberts said. “I said, ‘What?’”
The story from The Arizona Republic is raising new questions about whether Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s 2012 executive order, aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from getting licenses, goes too far. The order prevents transportation officials from accepting licenses from other states as primary forms of idenitifcation. The order reasons such documents do not verify legal immigration status.
Brewer issued the order on Aug. 15, 2012, and it has kept thousands of undocumented people from obtaining legal driving privileges. It has also frustrated many legal citizens, like Roberts, who was forced to return to the licensing agency the following day with a passport that had been expired for 40 years.
“So, they took an expired passport, 40 years old, but they wouldn’t accept a valid driver’s license,” Roberts said. “That makes no sense.”
Brewer’s executive order was issued the same day President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program went into effect. Under the president’s program, children who were brought to the country illegally, but are now working adults and meet certain requirements, are allowed to defer deportation and acquire two-year work permits. Such people, under the plan, are often referred to as “dreamers.”
According to a USA Today story, Brewer’s office maintained that undocumented immigrants under the president’s program are not eligible for licenses because only Congress has the authority to grant non-citizens legal presence.
A lawsuit was immediately filed by advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, challenging Brewer’s actions. In response to the lawsuit, the governor’s office extended the licensing ban to all immigrants granted deferred action status, not just the dreamers. The people most affected by that broadening of the ban are those granted deferred action for humanitarian reasons, including victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
"Recipients of regular deferred action and deferred enforced departure, similar to DACA, cannot demonstrate authorized presence under federal law," said Andrew Wilder, the governor's spokesman, in USA Today, at the time.
As for the lawsuit, the AP reported last month that a federal judge had ruled Brewer’s policies were likely discriminatory but did not block the policy. The decision was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Orion Danjuma, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, likened the policy battle to a war while underscoring the fact that other legal citizens are also getting caught in the crossfire.
“There are a huge number of barriers that they are setting up not only to [deferred-action] recipients or to other immigrants but also to citizens,” he said. “I think it is a real question for every Arizonan how many obstacles do you want to tolerate that are between you and receiving a driver’s license just so that Brewer can keep waging a war on dreamers.”