Saying she wants to clarify what she believes is obvious, a Phoenix lawmaker seeks to amend state law to say thousands of illegal immigrants in the president's deferred action program are entitled to Arizona driver licenses.
Rep. Catherine Miranda, a Democrat, said Thursday she believes that when the Department of Homeland Security said some illegal immigrants could be given work permits, that is tantamount to saying they are authorized to be here. And Miranda said that means being able to drive.
Gov. Jan Brewer, who does not see it that way, last year barred the state Motor Vehicle Division from issuing those in the program any licenses. Brewer contends the policy announced by President Obama says only that these people would not be deported, not that they are authorized to be in this country.
HB 2032 would overrule Brewer's action.
"My bill just clarifies these work permits are proof that the drivers' license applicants ... their presence is authorized under federal law,'' Miranda said. "So I'm just reminding our governor, reminding our Legislature of that rule.''
But Brewer told Capitol Media Services Thursday that Miranda's legislation proves her point: Arizona law as it now exists does not permit those in what is known as the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival program to be licensed.
"If people decide they want to change the law, they can move forward and do that,'' Brewer said, though she declined to say if she would sign the legislation if it reaches her desk.
"I'm the governor, I took an oath to uphold the law,'' she continued. "The law is they are not entitled to drivers' licenses.''
That contention will be decided in federal court.
Earlier this week, attorneys for the state asked U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell to rule that Brewer's interpretation of Arizona law is correct and throw out a challenge to it brought by various immigrant rights groups.
Under DACA, the government has decided not to pursue and deport those who meet certain criteria.
The big one is that they are under 30 and arrived in this country before turning 16. The must have resided in the country continuously for at least five years and be in high school, have graduated or have an equivalency diploma, or be an honorably discharged veteran.
As of the end of December the Department of Homeland Security had received nearly 368,000 applications nationwide. That includes close to 13,000 in Arizona, though the agency does not spell out how many of these have been granted.
Attorneys for the state estimate up to 80,000 people living in Arizona might ultimately be eligible.
The issue arises because those who are eligible are entitled to a federally issued permit to work legally in this country. And Arizona has previously issued licenses to others who have been given similar permits.
But in court filings this week, attorneys for the state told Campbell that the DACA program has no legal basis but simply an "administrative choice to temporarily defer removal of an unlawful alien.''
"This discretion cannot regularize someone's immigration status or grant a benefit that an alien is not legally entitled to receive,'' wrote attorney Douglas Northup who is heading the legal team for the state. "Deferred action confers no protection or benefit on an alien and no alien has the right to deferred action.''
Northup also pointed out that a spokesman for Homeland Security specifically said DACA does not "authorize'' anyone to be present in this country. And no one at the agency has said anyone granted deferred action status is entitled to any benefits, including a driver's license.
That, he said, leaves the 1996 Arizona law which specifically requires proof the person's presence in the United States "is authorized under federal law.'' And Northup said Brewer correctly interpreted that law.
Separately, Northup pointed out that the Obama administration has said those given deferred action status are not entitled to any other rights. He said that would be undermined by forcing Arizona to provide licenses.
"Possession of an Arizona driver's license is a form of identification that can enable its holder to access federal and state public benefits,'' he said, pointing out that various agencies accept a license as proof of legal presence. "Giving driver's licenses to DACA recipients risks such individuals improperly using those driver's licenses to obtain public benefits to which they are not entitled.''
Attorney Dan Pochoda of the American Civil Liberties Union disputed Brewer's contention that Miranda's legislation to amend existing law is a concession that, as worded now, it does not permit licenses to be issued to those in the deferred action program.
"The governor has interpreted state law in a way that we think is clearly not correct,'' he said. And he denied that Miranda, in proposing her amendment, undermines the legal arguments by the ACLU and others that Brewer is wrong.
He said the legislation makes sense.
"The quicker way to deal with it is to get new laws that make it clear,'' Pochoda said, adding that he doubts the Republican-controlled Legislature would approve it anyway.