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How Long Will Arizona Deny Driver's Licenses to Immigrant Youth? | The Nation

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Aura Bogado

Aura Bogado

Racial justice, Native rights and immigration. 

How Long Will Arizona Deny Driver's Licenses to Immigrant Youth?


President Obama meets with Jan Brewer in the Oval Office, June 2010. (Wikimedia Commons/CC, 2.0)

President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) memo late into last year’s election season, which allows certain undocumented immigrant youth to apply and obtain renewable two-year work permits. While some lawmakers responded favorably, others reacted with vitriol. In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer made clear that DACA youth would not be eligible for driver’s licenses. A federal court has now ruled there’s no rational basis for her decision—but refused to issue an injunction as the case moved forward.

DACA isn’t all-encompassing for undocumented youth. Those who arrived in the United States before they were 16, have resided here without interruption since June 15, 2007, are in high school, have graduated or otherwise obtained an equivalent certificate of completion, or have served in the military with an honorable discharge are eligible for the program, which is administrated by the Department of Homeland Security. However, those who arrived in the United States as children but turned 31 before June 15, 2012, are not allowed to apply; the same applies for anyone who arrived in the United States after the age of 16. Those who have been convicted of felonies or even certain misdemeanors are also ineligible.

Still, nearly half a million youth have applied, and so far about 200,000 have been approved. Once DACA youth receive approval and work permits, many naturally look to obtain a driver’s license as well. Arizona Governor Brewer called the entire program a “backdoor amnesty,” while simultaneously drawing attention to the fact that because DACA doesn’t provide permanent relief, she would not allow DACA recipients to obtain Arizona driver’s licenses. DACA youth and their allies organized to challenge Brewer in federal court.

The plaintiffs demanded an injunction against what they say is Brewer’s discriminatory decision. In order to grant that, Judge David Campbell wanted attorneys to show evidence that there is irreparable damage being caused against those DACA youth who are unable to apply for licenses. In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Campbell stated that he hasn’t been persuaded that that kind of damage is being cause—but he also wasn’t convinced to throw the case out, as Arizona’s attorneys wanted. Further, he indicated that Brewer’s basis for denying driver’s licenses was simply her fundamental disagreement with Obama. The judge also chided Brewer for referring to DACA youth as “illegal people,” indicating that the plaintiffs’ broader arguments about discrimination may stand in the final ruling.

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Dulce Matuz, a 28-year-old activist who’s organized against Brewer’s decision, respectfully disagreed with the judge’s ruling around irreparable damage—citing that her colleagues are being denied opportunities because they cannot obtain a license. But she’s confident that her side will emerge victorious over Brewer and her backers. “They wanted to dismiss our dreams—even our dream to have driver’s licenses,” she said. “But this lawsuit continues, and I’m confident that justice will prevail.”

The final decision on whether those driving dreams will soon become a reality will be handed down after a yet unscheduled hearing on the matter, which will likely be heard in the coming weeks.

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