PHOENIX (AP) -- Reyna Montoya is one of nearly 19,000 young immigrants in Arizona who have been allowed to stay in the U.S. under the Obama administration's deferred action policy, but the benefits of the program in the state have been limited.
As Montoya applies for teaching jobs, she considers herself competitively disadvantaged because Arizona hasn't allowed her to get a driver's license as the federal policy allows.
She was among those cheering a decision by a federal appeals court that on Monday ruled the state cannot deny driver's licenses to immigrants in the program. The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals suggested the policy was intended to express hostility toward the young immigrants, in part because of the deferred action policy.
"We are celebrating now, but we are going to have to continue to organize," Montoya said, noting that it's not the only example of difficulties she and others face.
Montoya said her counterparts in Arizona often struggle to pay for college, because the state requires those receiving deferred action assistance to pay out-of-state tuition, which is more expensive.
The program was created by the Obama administration in 2012 to help immigrants younger than 30 who came to the U.S. illegally as children. Applicants must have been in the country for at least five continuous years, enrolled in or have graduated from a high school or GED program or have served in the military. Aside from allowing driver's licenses, the program also permits young immigrants to pursue a two-year renewable work permit.
States have imposed various restrictions on benefits such immigrants are able to obtain, and Arizona's denial of licenses was one of the most visible challenges to the Obama administration's deferred deportation policy. A separate court battle is playing out in Arizona over a community college system that wants to grant in-state tuition to the immigrants - an effort the state attorney general has challenged.
Arizona was one of two states that refused to issue licenses to the immigrants, sparking the latest court fight over the issue.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer called the ruling misguided and said she was considering appeal.
The appeals court ruling follows other high-profile battles between Arizona and the federal government over immigration, including court decisions that struck down much of a 2010 enforcement law but upheld its most hotly debated section, which requires police to check immigration status under certain circumstances.
"We hope that this ruling signals the end of what has been an unfortunate anti-immigrant period in Arizona," said Karen Tumlin, one of the attorneys representing the immigrants.
The decision should remove any barriers young immigrants face in getting a driver's license in Arizona, Tumlin said.
The ruling comes during a national focus on the topic as tens of thousands of immigrants from Central America - many unaccompanied children - have illegally entered the country in recent months, straining the capacity of detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to young immigrants who get work authorization under the deferred action program.
Brewer pointed out that the judges who ruled against her were appointed by Democratic presidents. The governor blames Obama's policy for the recent influx of immigrants entering the country illegally and notes that the program isn't federal law. "Lawless decrees by the president demonstrate animus to Congress, states and the Constitution," Brewer said.
The appeals panel ordered a lower court judge to issue a preliminary injunction blocking Brewer's executive order while the case is litigated. It's unknown how long it will take for the case to conclude.
Brewer's attorneys said the decision to deny driver's licenses grew out of liability concerns and the desire to reduce the risk of the licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.
Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed to this report.
© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. --
PHOENIX (AP) -- An appeals court sided with advocates for young immigrants who argued that Arizona's policy of denying them driver's licenses even though they had work permits under an Obama administration policy violated their equal protection rights.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed the young immigrants were harmed by unequal treatment by the state and blocked Arizona's policy in its ruling Monday. The appeals court said the advocates also showed a likelihood that the immigrants would be harmed by the state's denial.
The Obama administration in June 2012 took administrative steps to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation. Applicants must have come to the United States before they turned 16, be younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, be in school or have graduated from high school or a GED program, or have served in the military. They also were allowed to apply for a two-year renewable work permit.
Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to young immigrants who get work authorization under the program.
AZ will continue to fight for the rule of law. Lawless decrees by President shows animus to Congress & Constitution. http://t.co/pV0QW3BRpF— Jan Brewer (@GovBrewer) July 7, 2014
.@BarackObama creates DACA by fiat & illegal aliens overrun USA. AZ will continue to fight this imperial POTUS & demand secure borders.— Jan Brewer (@GovBrewer) July 7, 2014
In May 2013, U.S. District Judge David Campbell rejected the argument by immigrant rights advocates who said Brewer's policy was unconstitutional because it's trumped by federal law.
But Campbell had said the immigrant rights advocates are likely to succeed in arguing that the state lets some immigrants with work permits get driver's licenses but won't let immigrants protected under Obama's program have the same benefit.
The state revised the policy late last summer by saying it would stop issuing driver's licenses to all people who receive deportation deferrals from the federal government, not just young immigrants given protection under Obama's policy.
The governor's attorneys argued the revision makes the equal-protection arguments moot.
But the immigrants' lawyers said the revision was a clear attempt to undermine their equal-protection claim and that, despite the state's claims, the state is still giving licenses to some people with deferred deportation status, such as certain immigrants who are domestic violence victims.
The governor's attorneys said the driver's license policy grew out of concerns over the liability of giving licenses to people who aren't authorized to be in the country and reducing the risk of licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.
The lawsuit alleges the state has in effect classified young-adult immigrants as not having permission to be in the country and that Brewer's policy is unconstitutional because it's trumped by federal law.
AP writer Paul Davenport contributed to this report.
© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Statement from Governor Jan Brewer
Response to Ninth Circuit Ruling
“In 2012, based on President Obama’s lawless directive, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made an administrative policy choice to defer removal proceedings of illegal aliens who were brought to the United States as children, a program referred to as DACA. This policy choice is not federal law authorizing an illegal alien’s presence in the country – it simply is a choice by the executive branch not to enforce deportation proceedings as required under existing federal statute. DHS itself has expressly acknowledged that the DACA Program does not grant any substantive rights and that only Congress can do that.
“The DACA Program, the decision to not enforce federal law, has directly led to the massive influx of illegal crossings and the crisis we are witnessing today. If the Ninth Circuit ruling is allowed to stand, the President, as he has already threatened, can contrive a new program refusing to deport the latest arrivals, issue employment authorization cards, and Arizona would have to issue licenses to them as well.
“Arizona law, A.R.S. § 28-3153(D), is very clear: ‘Notwithstanding any other law, the department shall not issue to or renew a driver license or nonoperating identification license for a person who does not submit proof satisfactory to the department that the applicant’s presence in the United States is authorized under federal law.’ As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation has a policy that DACA – as well as deferred action and deferred enforced departure individuals - do not demonstrate authorized presence under federal law.
"Lawless decrees by the President demonstrate animus to Congress, states and the Constitution. It is outrageous, though not entirely surprising, that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has once again dealt a blow to Arizona’s ability to enforce its laws. With today’s decision, a three judge appellate panel, appointed by Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, disregarded judicial precedent and procedure. This continues us down a dangerous path in which the courts and the President – not Congress – make our nation’s laws. The ruling is especially disturbing given the current influx of illegal aliens, a crisis President Obama created and escalated. I am analyzing options for appealing the misguided court decision. The American people are tired and disgusted by what is happening through our federal government today, but they can be assured Arizona will continue to fight for the rule of law."