"As the number of unauthorized immigrants granted benefits under the Obama administration's recent deferred action program reaches a critical mass, it has rekindled debate over an enduring contentious issue — the role that immigration status should play in the granting of driver’s licenses. [*]
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative allows qualified unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children to apply for work authorization and protection against deportation. This federal action has had an immediate ripple effect on policy areas which are the province of state authority — for example the granting of driver’s licenses or college tuition at in-state rates — prompting divergent outcomes.
As the DACA initiative took effect on August 15, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order applying specifically to DACA recipients, declaring them ineligible to apply for driver's licenses or any other unspecified "public benefits" in Arizona. On November 29, lawyers representing five DACA recipients denied driver’s licenses under the executive order filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the governor's action. In contrast with the Arizona executive order, lawmakers in Nevada and Illinois are advancing legislation to allow all unauthorized immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, marking the beginning of a reversal of the strong pushback against such measures in recent years.
The Arizona lawsuit represents immigrant advocates’ opening move in what could potentially be a long legal battle to block state actions that prohibit DACA beneficiaries from receiving driver’s licenses. While Arizona alone has blocked driver’s licenses for this population, officials in Nebraska and Michigan have announced that they will pursue similar policies.
In addition to challenging the constitutionality of Governor Brewer’s action, plaintiffs in the Arizona lawsuit allege that the denial of driver’s licenses will make it "difficult, if not impossible" for DACA recipients to accomplish the "essential aspects of daily life." The lawsuit cites US Census Bureau statistics showing that more than 87 percent of Arizonans (and 86 percent of Americans) commute to work by car." - MPI, Dec. 18, 2012.
* A majority of state governments use 'driver license' rather than 'driver's license.'