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Licenses for deferred action participants gets Capitol hearing

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PHOENIX – Denying Arizona driver’s licenses to participants in the Obama administration’s deferred action program is setting up newly legal workers to break the law by driving anyway, an advocate told state lawmakers Thursday.

“The ability to drive is intrinsically linked to employment,” said Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform.

He and others addressed the House Transportation Committee about a bill authored by Rep. Catherine H. Miranda, D-Phoenix, that would allow deferred action participants to receive Arizona driver’s licenses.

Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order last year saying that work permits offered under deferred action don’t constitute the proof of legal U.S. residency needed to obtain an Arizona driver’s license.

Miranda’s bill would apply to the more than 14,000 Arizonans who have applied for deferred action. Arizona is one of seven states that prevents participants from getting licenses.

Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, the committee’s chairwoman scheduled the bill for an informational hearing but not a vote.

Mabel Munoz, a biomedical engineer graduate of Arizona State University, told the committee that not having a driver’s license doesn’t give her many options besides driving illegally. Munoz said bus fares are expensive and that traveling on public transportation can take up to 10 times longer than driving.

“I’m not asking for money, I’m not asking for benefits,” said Munoz, who has applied for deferred action but has yet to receive a work permit. “All I’m asking for is the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Rep. Lydia Hernández, D-Phoenix, said that not allowing immigrants to get driver’s licenses prevents Arizona from competing against neighboring states for jobs.

“I believe that these issues merit our undivided attention and our best strategies because the economic security of our state is at stake,” she said. “If we don’t, I fear we are creating a generation of anger and resentment.”

Mike Wilson, policy director for the group Border Action Network and a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said Native Americans experienced similar struggles as young illegal immigrants in the deferred action program. He said participants have proven their loyalty to the U.S. and should be treated like other residents.

“For all practical purposes, they are American,” he said. “As a country of immigrants, we are all Americans.”

Miranda, the bill’s author, held a news conference to say that simply having the bill before a committee was important.

“HB 2032 is a critical component of a message that Arizona values all bright and talented students,” Miranda said.