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Arizona Rejected by Top Court on Immigrant Driver’s Licenses

23 Dec

A divided U.S. Supreme Court left intact a ruling that will require Arizona to offer driver’s licenses to some undocumented immigrants in a case testing the strength of President Barack Obama’s deferred-deportation policies.

Rebuffing state officials without comment, the justices today refused to block the federal appeals court decision, which concerns people who entered the country illegally as children and are shielded from deportation under a 2012 Obama administration program. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

Arizona is one of two states, along with Nebraska, that refuse driver’s licenses to the hundreds of thousands of people who have received deportation relief under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The appeals court said Arizona’s policy was probably unconstitutional.

The case doesn’t directly concern Obama’s most recent deferred-deportation initiative, which gives a reprieve to about 5 million additional undocumented immigrants.

Arizona has been the focal point for recent legal clashes over immigration, pitting Republican Governor Jan Brewer against the Obama administration. In 2012 the Supreme Court struck down parts of a state law that gave Arizona police more power to crack down on immigration violations.

Arizona said its longstanding policy is to issue driver’s licenses only to people who can prove they are in the country legally. After the administration announced the 2012 program letting people seek deferral and get a work authorization, Brewer issued an executive order to ensure the beneficiaries wouldn’t qualify for a driver’s license.

‘Longstanding’ Law

“Arizona is not only being ordered to disregard longstanding state law, it is being ordered to take action that is contrary to preserving the status quo,” Brewer argued in court papers.

The group challenging the state’s policy includes five Arizona residents who received deportation deferrals and say the license ban is hindering their ability to work.

Those people “have suffered under Arizona’s discriminatory policy for over two years now, and the court of appeals’ order finally allowing them to obtain driver’s licenses should not be delayed,” their lawyers argued.

A three-judge panel ruled against Arizona, saying the state lacks any rational basis for barring the group from getting licenses while issuing them to some other undocumented immigrants, including people contesting deportation. Arizona then asked the Supreme Court to block that ruling while the legal fight continues.