A three-judge appeals panel overruled a district judge who ruled that Gov. Jan Brewer has the authority to order the Arizona Department of Transportation to refuse driver's licenses to immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Obama's program allows some immigrants who were brought to the country by their parents to work legally.
Judge Harry Pregerson in his opinion said the state policy violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution because immigrants allowed to remain at least temporarily under other federal programs can get licenses. He said refusing licenses can also do irreparable harm because getting and keeping a job often requires a car.
"Defendants' policy appears intended to express animus toward DACA recipients themselves, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them,'' Pregerson, writing for the court, said. "Such animus, however, is not a legitimate state interest.''
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reports that almost 20,000 people in Arizona have been accepted into the program.
Immigration is a hot-button issue in Arizona, where many residents are immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Brewer is known as a hardliner and has signed laws ordering local police departments and other agencies to enforce immigration laws.