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Court blocks state plan to deny driver’s licenses to some immigrants

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WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Monday blocked an Arizona policy that denies driver’s licenses to immigrants who have been temporarily protected from deportation under the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling, saying the so-called DREAMers “are likely to suffer irreparable harm” if the driver’s license policy is allowed to continue.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who issued the 2012 executive order directing state agencies to deny “taxpayer-funded public benefits and state identification, including a drivers’ license” to deferred-action residents, blasted the ruling Monday. In a prepared statement from her office, she called the court’s decision an “outrageous” and “misguided” defense of a “lawless directive” by the Obama administration.

“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,” the statement said.

But Victor Viramontes, national senior counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, hailed the decision.

“The 9th Circuit has told them (Arizona) that they need to follow the law and … stop discriminating against DACA recipients,” said Viramontes, who argued the case for the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and five immigrants who challenged the policy.

The policy was Brewer’s response to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows immigrants who were brought here illegally as children to stay for renewable two-year terms without fear of being deported.

Under the policy, which was announced in June 2012, DACA applicants must have been younger than 16 when they came to the U.S. and under age 31 as of June 15, 2012. They also must have a high school diploma or received a GED, or been honorably discharged from the military.

Immigrants covered under the program are required to apply for work authorization documentation, which can be used to apply for a driver’s license in Arizona. But Brewer’s order stopped that.

The plaintiffs include five DACA recipients who got work papers but who said, according to court documents, that the executive order effectively kept them from working, since they have no way to get to their jobs without a car.

“This is an important victory because in Arizona driving is essential for living your daily life,” Viramontes said.

“It’s how you go to school. It’s how you go to work. It’s how you visit your family members, and the governor senselessly tried to deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients,” he said.

Carmen Cormejo, an adviser to the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, said it is an important decision because “DREAMers need to drive. They need to become completely integrated into our communities and the state.”

A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the policy discriminated against DACA recipients “for no rational reason,” but that the order could take effect because plaintiffs were not likely to suffer “irreparable harm” from it.

The appeals panel disagreed, saying the plaintiffs would be harmed if the policy was not blocked.

Brewer said she is looking at options for an appeal.

“This continues us down a dangerous path in which the courts and the president – not Congress – make our nation’s laws,” Brewer’s statement said. “The ruling is especially disturbing given the current influx of illegal aliens, a crisis President Obama created and escalated.”

But Viramontes said the state needs to “move on” from this issue.

“It’s time for Arizona to move on from its years-long policy now of being at war with immigrants,” he said. “I think they need to turn the page.”