Drivers Licenses for Dreamers

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Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has been denied an appeal to a lawsuit she filed to block young illegal immigrants who have been granted deferred deportation from getting drivers licenses. Local immigration attorney Elizabeth Chatham will discuss the case.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Young unauthorized immigrants who were brought here as children and granted deferred deportation are allowed, in many states, to get driver's licenses. That's not the case in Arizona, where Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order to deny licenses to the so-called dreamers. But a three-judge panel of the 9th circuit court of appeals found that there was no legal reason to deny licenses to dreamers, and a request by the Governor for a rehearing before a 15-judge panel was denied. For what this all means in practical terms, we welcome local immigration attorney Elizabeth Chatham.

Elizabeth Chatham: Good to see you. Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Thank you for being here. It's not confusing but it can be confusing but it shouldn't be confusing. Let's talk about the court case. First of all, did we get that right? The 9th circuit didn't want to look at it again, ball game?

Elizabeth Chatham: Exactly. I think the three-judge panel in July was pretty bold in what they were saying. That the state of Arizona was not able to legally, it was an unconstitutional issue to deny driver's licenses to dreamers because of how they were classifying whether or not these people had status, legal status in the U.S. They ultimately said that is the job of the Federal government. And then when the State decided to appeal that three-judge panel decision, the 15-panel judge court decided to say, you know, we are going to agree with this, the earlier decision. So there will be no appeal in the 9th circuit at this point.

Ted Simons: It could go to the Supreme Court? Could -- how would that work? Petitioned up there?

Elizabeth Chatham: Absolutely. The State can decide to apply for the Supreme Court to hear the case. They have about a week in order to make that application. As far as I am aware they haven't made the application yet to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court can either decide to hear the matter or deny it and say that there is, it's moot. The decisions have already been decided, there is no question of law here.

Ted Simons: Interesting. We should mention as well that originally it was dreamers only and the original court ruling was, well, you can't just do that with dreamers because other folks with deferred deportation are allowed licenses and the State said, okay, everybody with deferred deportation.

Elizabeth Chatham: That's exactly what happened. That affected domestic violence victims, victims of trafficking, people that we actually want to help integrate into our society, and to find independence. And I think when you read the summer decision from the 9th circuit, the bold language was sort of scolding the State saying, you are purposely punishing this class of people. And the day that it was available to apply for DACA, that was the same day that the Governor issued a change in how the Department of Motor Vehicles classified this class of immigrants. And that is part of why I think there was so much irreparable harm to these immigrants. In the pleadings it stated that 87% of Arizonans drive, either drive to work or to school. And because of the lack of a driver's license and such a large population of people not being able to drive, that was classified as irreparable harm. And that was part of the reason the court decided, you know, this is not constitutional. You can't target individual classes of people like this.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, back to the ground level where the rubber meets the road, if you will, will a district judge order the Department of Transportation to start issuing licenses? And if so, when?

Elizabeth Chatham: That's what is anticipated. That the district court judge is going to go ahead and say, you can't issue, this order is no longer legal. And that the State of Arizona is going to have to issue driver's licenses and put the law back in place as it was prior to the order. So it's not asking for a legislative change or anything like that in what the rules were in getting a license. It's just putting it back to the requirements prior to Governor Brewer's order. The expectation of when the State is going to start issuing driver's licenses should be by the end of the year. But for the, before 2015 happens. And it will probably be the normal documentation that someone with a work permit would show. They would show that they had permission to be here, they had a work permit from the Federal government, it will have an expiration date. It's probably going to be two or three years depending on when the person got their EAD card. And then that's how long their Arizona driver's license or state ID will be issued for.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask that. The executive action only goes for three years. If that's the case, do they have to, these dreamers or folks that are on this deferred deportation status, do they have to reapply for a driver's license every three years or however long the action takes?

Elizabeth Chatham: Yes, absolutely, they are going to have to apply every three years. Not like your license or mine that's good for 50 years.

Ted Simons: 300 years it seems like.

Elizabeth Chatham: Exactly. Yeah. It's completely linked. Immigrants are allowed to have licenses so long as they have authorized stay in the United States.

Ted Simons: The folks that are affected by this obviously the original dreamers, the official kids affected by DACA. What about this latest Executive action by the President? Are those folks affected by this?

Elizabeth Chatham: It will apply to anyone getting deferred action status. It won't just be the folks previously issued the EAD cards but now their parents, when they apply, it's called DAPA, when they apply for their work permits, those are issued and once they are received they can go and apply for their driver's licenses. Which I anticipate is going to be quite controversial in the State of Arizona. It's one thing to not want to punish kids. You know, frankly. And it's a whole other thing to say, should we or should we not be granting privileges to their parents who are the ones that may have brought them here? But the Federal law isn't going to make that distinction. They are not judging the actions of the parents. What they are saying is, come out of the shadows; make sure you meet these requirements. If we don't believe that you are a threat to public safety or have prior criminal convictions, then, we realize you are here and we are going to grant you deferred action from being deported and a work permit.

Ted Simons: And we should note these licenses can be revoked with a new executive action. Correct?

Elizabeth Chatham: That's possible. That is possible. If they can make a distinction between the different classes of people and how the injuries are not irreparable, how there's a different basis, then it's possible that another executive order could be issued. However, I do think it would be very weak. The legal grounds that they would be making are going to be very hard to overcome based on this current decision from the 9th Circuit.

Ted Simons: Yet if the election occurred in 2016 and the GOP wins and the GOP is not crazy about this, the Republican president says, that particular executive action, it's adios. That means these licenses could be revoked?

Elizabeth Chatham: Right. If the new administration comes in and says, we are not going to continue this program, or we believe we are going to end the program, then absolutely. The millions of people potentially that are getting these benefits would no longer be eligible. I am not a politician nor do I have a crystal ball to predict the future. But it seems very difficult for a new administration to sort of turn back the impact of this potential program. What I see happening is, if there is comprehensive immigration reform, which we all hope that there is. That's the proper way to fix our immigration system. Then, yes, then the need for something like the executive order from the president is moot. It's no longer necessary. There's other paths for people to get legal status, permanent legal status in the states.

Ted Simons: So we wait for the district judge to issue that order and see what happens. Correct?

Elizabeth Chatham: We will see what happens. It's appropriate to have this conversation on Thanksgiving. We are talking about the original immigrants. So thank you for having me today.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Elizabeth Chatham:Immigration Attorney, Phoenix;

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