PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asked an appeals court Friday to reconsider its earlier ruling that blocked her policy denying driver's licenses to young immigrants who have avoided deportation under an Obama administration policy.
Earlier this month, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded there was no legitimate state interest in treating young immigrants who were granted deferred action on deportation differently from other noncitizens who could apply for driver's licenses. Instead, the panel suggested the policy was intended to express hostility toward the young immigrants, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them.
The governor is now asking for a 15-judge panel to reconsider the ruling.
The Obama administration in June 2012 took administrative steps to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation and expand their legal rights. The move assists immigrants younger than 30 who came to the U.S. before turning 16, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, are enrolled in or have graduated from a high school or GED program or have served in the military. Aside allowing driver's licenses, applicants also were allowed to pursue a two-year renewable work permit.
Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to young immigrants who get work authorization under the deferred-action program.
Immigrant-rights advocates who pressed the lawsuit in court argued that the state let some immigrants with work permits get driver's licenses but wouldn't let immigrants protected under Obama's program have the same benefit.
The state revised the policy last year by saying it would stop issuing driver's licenses to all people who receive deportation deferrals from the federal government, not just young immigrants given protection under Obama's policy. The governor's attorneys argued the revision makes the young immigrants' equal-protection arguments moot.
In Friday's filing, the governor's attorneys said the appeals court should have had a lower-court judge assess the revised policy.
"We are confident that the panel's decision will be upheld," said Karen Tumlin, one of the attorneys representing the immigrants.
Brewer's attorneys have argued the decision to deny driver's licenses grew out of liability concerns and the desire to reduce the risk of the licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.
Immigrant-rights advocates who filed the challenge to Brewer's policy said the rule change made it difficult or impossible for such young immigrants to do essential things in their everyday lives, such as going to school, going to the grocery store and finding and holding down a job.
Brewer's refusal marked the nation's most visible challenge to the Obama policy on young immigrants.
Nebraska is the only other state to have made similar denials, and a federal judge this year dismissed a lawsuit contesting the state's policy.