Thousands of Arizonans in the federal "deferred action'' program won't be getting licenses to drive, at least not now.
Judge David Campbell refused Thursday to grant an immediate order overturning a policy ordered last year by Gov. Jan Brewer denying licenses to those who have qualified for a program that allows those who arrived illegally as children to remain in the country and even to work.
In a 40-page ruling, Campbell said challengers may eventually prove that Brewer's policy is unconstitutional. He acknowledged there is evidence that Arizona already issues licenses to some others who are in similar types of programs where they are allowed to remain despite their technically being in the country illegally.
But Campbell said the injunction that these "dreamers'' want, ahead of a full-blown trial, requires proof they are being irreparably harmed in the interim. And he said the shows that is not the case, especially as several of them have admitted they're driving anyway.
Thursday's ruling drew mixed reaction.
"We're disappointed the judge decided not to block the Arizona policy, said Linton Joaquin, attorney for the National Immigration Law Center.
But attorney Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union cited Campbell's statement that it appears those in the program, formally known as "deferred action childhood arrival,'' are victims of unequal treatment under the law.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said Brewer was cheered by Campbell's refusal to order her to start issuing licenses.
"It's good news for the state of Arizona to have this injunction rejected,'' he said. "State policy will remain in place while the rest of the case proceeds.''
Benson acknowledged that Campbell did find evidence of unequal treatment. But he said Brewer believes the state will be able to defend at trial its policy not to provide licenses to those in the DACA program.
The legal fight stems from the decision last year by the Obama administration not to deport certain people brought here as children. Those who qualify will be allowed to stay for two years -- permission that is renewable -- and be allowed to work while they are here.
About 1.4 million people nationwide eventually may qualify, including 80,000 in Arizona alone.
But the Department of Transportation, on orders from Brewer, is refusing to issue licenses to anyone in the DACA program.
Attorneys for Brewer said a 1996 state law says licenses are available solely to those whose presence in this country is "authorized by federal law.'' And they said an administrative decision by the president and the Department of Homeland Security not to deport them does not make their presence "authorized.''
Civil rights groups filed suit on behalf of five who have been accepted into the DACA program, saying their rights have been violated. And they asked Campbell to immediately order ADOT to issue them licenses, saying they were suffering "irreparable harm.''
The judge said the evidence shows otherwise.
Campbell noted the challengers said their inability to get a license hinders their ability to get work, something they are entitled to do under the deferred action plan. They also argued that without licenses they cannot drive their children to medical appointments or attend to other family responsibilities.
"These same individual plaintiffs have acknowledged, however, that they either drive or have readily available alternative means of transportation,'' Campbell wrote.
"One plaintiff testified that she drove herself to her lawyer's office for her deposition in this case, drives her sister's car to work Monday through Friday of each week, has been driving for about four years, and intends to continue driving to work and school in the future,'' he continued. "Another plaintiff testified that she drives her mother's car six days a week, has been driving since age 17, and drives herself to college and work.''
And Campbell said while one challenger has stopped driving and does commute by light rail and bus "that inconvenience does not constitute irreparable injury.''
In his order Thursday, Campbell totally dismissed claims that allowing Arizona to deny licenses to those in the DACA program illegally conflicts with federal law and policy. The judge said nothing in Brewer's decision interferes with the ability of Congress to set federal immigration policy.
But while refusing the request for an injunction, the judge said he is willing to consider an alternate claim that the challengers are the victims of unequal legal treatment.
Campbell noted that DACA is not the only deferred action program of the Department of Homeland Security. And he said those in the other programs have, in fact, been given licenses by Arizona to drive.
Wang said she sees the governor's opposition as political rather than legal.
"While the rest of the country is trying to figure out how to integrate dreamers and other aspiring citizens, and while Congress is trying to have immigration reform passed, the governor of Arizona is digging in her heels and trying to move backwards,'' she said.