Arizona driver's license battle heads to court

Posted: Updated:
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments Friday in a lawsuit seeking to block Gov. Jan Brewer's order denying driver's licenses for immigrants who have gotten work permits under a new Obama administration policy.

The lawsuit before U.S. District Judge David Campbell alleges that Brewer's policy is unconstitutional because it's trumped by federal law. Immigrant advocates pushing the case claim the policy makes it difficult or impossible for such young immigrants to go to school and keep a job.

The lawsuit in Arizona represents the first legal battle over President Barack Obama's policy granting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants the right to stay in the United States and work.

Roughly 40 states have agreed to give driver's licenses to immigrants benefiting from the Obama policy. A similar lawsuit was filed in Michigan after state officials there initially decided to deny the immigrants licenses, but was dropped when the state policy was changed last month.

Brewer's lawyers claim Obama's policy isn't federal law and that those pushing the lawsuit can't support their allegation that they can't keep a job or go to school without a license.

Arizona officials "face potentially serious ramifications if they give driver's licenses to a large group of people who might not be entitled to them," Arizona officials alleged in recent court filings.

The Obama administration announced its policy protecting some young immigrants from deportation in June. The youths also are allowed to apply for a two-year renewable work permit. Applicants must have come to the U.S. 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.

The Department of Homeland Security has said immigrants with work permits issued under the policy are lawfully present in the U.S. Roughly 80,000 immigrants in Arizona are eligible for the deferred status program, according to state estimates.

Brewer's "political disagreement with the federal government's discretionary decision is not a proper justification for denying licenses to individuals granted deferred action," lawyers representing the immigrants wrote in court filings.

Immigrant rights advocates filed the lawsuit in November on behalf of five young-adult immigrants in Arizona who were brought to the United States from Mexico as children. They were granted deferred deportation protections under the Obama administration's policy but were denied licenses in Arizona.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status that would let all other young immigrants in Arizona who were granted the deferred-deportation protection join the lawsuit.

The three groups leading the lawsuit are the National Immigration Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Arizona gained international recognition as an epicenter of the U.S. immigration debate when it passed its tough anti-immigrant law in 2010.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.